We are now well past the halfway point on the journey towards Game of Thrones’s long-awaited and much-speculated-upon conclusion, and this little fact seems to provide most of the reason as to why this current season has been moving like a house ablaze (the other reason being, of course, that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have finally run out of book material to adapt and are instead free to take author George R.R. Martin’s proposed outline and deliver it to the screen directly). Given just how much the overarching plot has advanced across these first four episode (it hasn’t even been half a season yet!), we can start to draw certain conclusions as to what the show’s final denouement will be – or, at least, what the final phase leading up to it will be; woe to anyone who attempts to accurately predict what crazy twists and turns the Game of Thrones narrative will take at any given point, let alone during its home stretch.
These episodes have given us a few points on a graph to work with, however, so let's start sketching out How Game of Thrones Is Setting up Its Final Destination.
Daenerys’s Invasion of Westeros
A major throughline since the very first season of the series, audiences have been waiting the past five years for the last surviving Targaryen, Princess Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), to leave the wild and unruly continent of Essos behind to trace her ancestors’ footsteps three centuries earlier and arrive to conquer the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros with fire and blood.
The wait has not been without its merits. Originally a young, meek, and woefully inexperienced girl, Dany has been through more than her fair share of obstacles and heartache, hardening her into a competent (we hope!) battlefield general and an even more accomplished monarch – the perfect conditioning she has needed for the trials and tribulations that await across the narrow sea. The past five years have also provided most of the means for the self-styled Mother of Dragons to accomplish such an undertaking: she has amassed three dragons; a small Dothraki khalasar, including fiercely loyal bloodriders; a large army of Unsullied supersoldiers; and a small-but-diverse collection of advisers, ranging from the former slave Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) to the wily Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), one of the most able Hands of the King in living memory, to council her on her campaigning and governing.
Now, the first four episodes of season 6 have only augmented this coalition. The dragons are all now fully grown (and are very formidable, as the Sons of the Harpy will attest to). Daenerys has just essentially nabbed the mantle of leader for all the Dothraki, and she has Tyrion administering the besieged city of Meereen in her absence, possibly finding a solution to the insurgency problem in the process. And as if all this weren’t enough, she’s also seemingly accepted Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) back into her service (or she will, given the role he played in helping her form the largest khalasar in history). When combined with the added presence of Lord Varys the Spider (Conleth Hill), she will have a considerable range of voices and experiences making up her small council.
Sure, there are certainly some roadblocks left - her entire fleet has been torched by the Sons of the Harpy, and the inter-political problems of the Slavers' Bay region won't be that easy to tie up, no matter what Tyrion may think. Still, Varys is now present in Meereen, and given the fact that he and his secret partner-in-crime, Magister Illyrio Mopatis (Roger Allam), have been sheltering and protecting her since she was just a little girl - and that they have had a plan in place for her all this time, seemingly leading up to the Targaryen restoration - these are hurdles that can be conquered.
Crisis in King’s Landing
Queen Regent Cersei Baratheon’s (Lena Headey) release from her prison cell in the Great Sept of Baelor at the end of last season marked a major turning point for the character and the crown’s ongoing struggles with the Faith both, though few realized it at the time. Her temporary freedom granted her immediate access to Ser Robert Strong (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), the reanimated corpse of Ser Gregor Clegane, and the hulking monstrosity has already proven his worth in these first few installments of season 6, literally crushing her opponents and intimidating all the rest - from House Lannister’s guards to Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover).
It also, perhaps most notably, put her back into contact with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), her twin brother and the lord commander of the Kingsguard, reconciling their political partnership – an union that has gotten even more solidified in the wake of Princess Myrcella Baratheon’s (Nell Tiger Free) death.
The last piece of her political alliance comes in the form of the two most dominant current members of the small council just this week: her Uncle Kevan Lannister (Ian Gelder) and Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), the so-called Queen of Thorns. Although initially dismissive of both Cersei and Jaime’s overtures to make common cause against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and the Faith Militant, the two have concluded that, in reality, there is no other way to protect the respect of the crown and the personal dignity of Queen Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). House Tyrell's soldiers will need to be called upon, and the strategy that will guide their actions will need to be issued – at least in part – by the Lannister twins.
Such a collection of forces will instantly become the biggest power bloc in King’s Landing, and it should prove to be the remedy to the sudden problem that is the Faith Militant (a problem, it should duly be pointed out, that was Cersei’s sole creation). Given the snippets provided from this season’s sneak previews – and from the sheer, brutal logic that Game of Thrones runs on – we know that a clash between the combined Lannister-Tyrell forces and the Faith’s new foot soldiers is extremely likely, which, in turn, means that blood being spilled in the streets and some more of our cast of characters being shuffled off of this mortal coil are equally likely. Our best guess is that both Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) and Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) will be among the dead once everything is said and done, and that such a turn will, of course, have huge impacts on the newfound Cersei-Jaime-small council alliance.
The net result, regardless of the High Sparrow’s (or, for that matter, Queen Margaery’s) ultimate fate, will be the same: a significantly weakened political and martial situation in the capital city, which will make the Seven Kingdoms’ seat of power all the more incapable of effectively dealing with Daenerys’s invasion. And this is precisely how it is in the novels: even though Varys is still in hiding in the Red Keep and other plot specifics are slightly altered, his ultimate goal is to ensure as much chaos as possible in King’s Landing until such a time that the Targaryens can be restored to power.
Another important note to make regarding the ever-more-degrading situation that the Iron Throne finds itself in: the crown will find itself increasingly incapable of dealing with the other parts of Westeros that continue to rise up and rebel, such as the coup d'etat in Dorne and the possibly-resurgent-under-a-new-monarch Ironborn. Expect these minor storylines to only add more fuel to the anarchistic fire.
The Reconstruction of the North
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is alive. He’s also now no longer the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, making him a free agent in Game of Thrones’s overarching narrative for the first time since the very first episode. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) convincing him to take up arms against the ruthless House Bolton and to reclaim Winterfell as the rightful ancestral home of the Starks marks a major turning point not only for the character, but for the entire region, as well – a region that represents the biggest kingdom in Westeros and the only one that is prone to take the fairytale White Walkers seriously.
He’s also a free agent who will lead one of the biggest armies the Seven Kingdoms has ever seen: he already commands the respect of the wildlings; Sansa, who is the last true heir (so far as anyone knows, that is) to the Wardenship of the North, can rally a number of still-loyal northern houses; and Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) has now just pledged the Knights of the Vale, who have thus far sat out any of the conflicts that have plagued the countryside (at Littlefinger’s demand, even if the various houses of the Vale don’t know it themselves), to Jon and Sansa’s common cause. Lord Snow’s ability to topple the traitorous forces of the north is all but assured, making the region the exact opposite of the situation in King’s Landing: it could soon be a land of peace and stability.
Not that the peace will last long, of course. More than the internal squabbles of the various houses of Westeros (even if the Boltons more than deserve the comeuppance they have coming their way), the true conflict of the series, of course, is the ever-closing advance of the White Walkers and their undead host, and what makes Jon such a formidable leader is not only his ability to wage war or form new alliances but his possession of direct, personal knowledge of the existential threat that is ready to pounce any moment now. Much like King Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) attempted to do before his untimely death last season, Jon will have the ability to put the various internal developments in their proper context and wage – or, at least, we hope he’ll be able to wage – a formidable defense against the supernatural ice zombies.
He'll also be getting his own small council of sorts - Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), one of the greatest swordsmen in the realm; and Lady Melisandre (Carice van Houten), who now believes Lord Snow is the prophesized Prince That Is Promised (the individual who is destined to stop the Walkers and prevent a permanent Long Night from settling on the land of the living); and potentially also Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who will eventually be kicked out of his safehouse with the Three-Eyed Crow (Max von Sydow) and who will have the ultimate power of greensight. All this is only icing on the warfare cake. Maybe it’ll even be enough to unite all the various other warring factions – the Targaryens, the Lannisters/Tyrells, the Greyjoys – for the real fight at hand.
Underscoring the continued – and growing – importance of Jon in this final stretch of the narrative is the long-awaited revelation regarding the identity of his parent(s). Given that Bran has been having some rather important flashbacks to their father’s youth, and given the importance that the Tower of Joy, where Lyanna Stark was held captive during Robert’s Rebellion, has in both the story and among the diehard fan community’s theorizing, it seems that Bran is soon to uncover the bombshell truth… and pass it along to all the others in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. If this development is precisely what we book readers have thought it is for the past two decades or so, the ending of Game of Thrones is sure to be one wild ride.
Have your own thoughts as to what Game of Thrones’s ending will entail? Be sure to share them in the comments section – we’re eager to theorize with you.
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