Can you believe it? Am I talking about Game of Thrones’ epic run or just how long it feels like we’ve been enduring this final hiatus? I need “it’s-not-TV-it’s-HBO” prestige television like Cersei needs wine. If the new trailer tells us anything, it’s time to drink all the Dornish red, eat every fucking chicken in the room, and smoke ’em if ya got ’em—dragons, I mean—because the end isn’t nigh: it’s here.
And I’ve rewatched every episode of the series so you don’t have to.
Here’s what you need to know going into season 8.
Major spoilers ahead. Obviously.
Winter is here.
After seven years of building up their army of the undead and wreaking havoc on the Night’s Watch and wildlings, the White Walkers have breached the wall at Eastwatch and are marching south. This will obviously be the big glaring emergency in the first half of the season, at least. It’s the reason behind Jon and Daenerys asking for an armistice with Cersei Lannister—an armistice that she will summarily break, should she survive. But the White Walkers are more powerful than ever, now that they have a dragon of their own, thanks to a very stupid plan that got Viserion killed within reach of the Night King’s resurrection powers.
First in the Night King’s path? Winterfell, where Sansa, Arya, and Bran await Jon Snow’s return.
The Lannisters are in disarray.
Cersei’s sole redeeming quality is that she loves her family. Really loves her family, in the case of her twin Jaime. But with her children Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen dead, and both of her brothers defected over to Daenerys’ and Jon Snow’s side in the war against the White Walkers, Cersei is almost entirely alone. And pregnant with Jaime’s fourth child. Or so she claims. None of the promotional materials seem to reveal if Cersei is far enough along to actually show. And she’s still smirking portentously over goblets of wine like a champ. (But, you know, it’s not like there’s a Surgeon General in King’s Landing.)
Either way, Cersei is a cornered lioness and her only real allies seem to be disgraced Maester Qyburn and zombie-Gregor Clegane. Gods help us all.
The show never fully delved into Maggy the Frog’s prophecy from the books, but that’s still no reason to think that Thrones won’t be doing its take on the premonition about Cersei’s death at the hands of her valonqar, or little brother, anyway. I’ve always thought this means Jaime, because Tyrion may be the youngest brother, Jaime is still younger than Cersei, too. Only by a few minutes. And nothing could hurt Cersei more cruelly than a major betrayal by the only person she’s ever loved.
Jaime will have his own difficulties when he shows up in the north to pledge his sword to help fight the White Walkers, but his bond with Tyrion is strong enough to get him through a period of distrust.
Dragons Take All
“Sometimes strength is terrible,” Daenerys tells a very concerned Tyrion after last season’s BBQ of rebel Tarly lords.
Season seven featured two major battle sequences showcasing just how big and badass Dany’s children have grown. Watching Drogon, Dany, and a horde of screaming Dothraki meet the Lannisters on a battlefield for the first time was a highlight of not just the season, but the whole show. On the other hand, we had to say goodnight to one of Dany’s dragons, lessening her aerial power by a full third and and giving her undead enemies a major weapon. We just saw what one ice dragon can do.
Daenerys is still poised to take the Iron Throne, especially after she convinced Jon Snow, the King of the North, to finally bend the knee. But! Dany isn’t the only Targaryen. A major fan theory was confirmed in the final episode of last season: Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s bastard. He’s the legitimate heir of Ned’s sister Lyanna and Dany’s older brother, the late Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. He will surely learn that he is, technically, probably, the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. That will… sure put a damper on Dany and Jon’s love affair. I mean, that, or the fact that Dany is his aunt. At least they’re not twins?
The Ladies of Winterfell
Where will Sansa and Arya fit into the endgame? Sansa has the loyalty of the North and, after a lengthy and implausible failed ploy by Littlefinger, the loyalty of her sister. But where will she fit in when Jon returns with Dany and her dragons? This is definitely one of the meetings I’m most anticipating. I think they won’t like each other at first and that Sansa will be the voice of an angry North that did not agree to Jon’s plan, or his decision to bend the knee. But, emotionally, where will she end up by season’s end?
As for Arya, I think it’ll be good for the lone wolf assassin to learn how to live in a pack again. Perhaps she will adapt, or perhaps her rage will die with her on a battlefield. The dream of spring after the war may not need an Arya as much as it did before. Regardless, I had best be bawling my eyes out when she and Jon finally reunite.
It’s Reigning Men
Tormund lives! Cleganebowl is near! Ser Davos will make jokes! Samwell still loves Gilly! Gendry got even hotter! There are a lot of good characters still breathing, and we’re going to hold out hope that they keep breathing into the finale end credits. But chances are, a lot of these people will die horribly and sadly because this is Game of Thrones and sometimes we’re masochists.
Other Relevant but Minor Shit
I can’t believe I once stanned for House Greyjoy. Theon was a coward yet again and did nothing to help his sister Yara escape the clutches of their cartoon villain of an uncle, Euron. Why Theon’s redemption merits so much time in any season, let alone the last one ever, I will never understand.
Missandei and Grey Worm are in love. I actually do care about them, though. They’re sweet. Same with Samwell and Gilly. And I hope Tormund and Brienne get some romance together, even if it’s stupid fan service. Most of them are likely going to be dying this season because we must be punished for loving them too much. Prestige TV has rules!
But at least we don’t have it as badly as Ser Fedora Mormont, who is still totally okay with dying in Dany’s friendzone.
House Tyrell is gone, but deserves a last round of applause for Lady Olenna Tyrell delivering one of the show’s very best death scenes of all time last season. What a badass.
Bran Stark is creepy and beyond mortality now that he’s the Three-Eyed Raven. Will he warg into Viserion and save the day? Is he, as a wild fan theory speculates, in a time loop and will be revealed to be the Night King?
The Lord of Light has a plan, but it’s probably going to be as disappointing as the Cylons’ plan once we finally see it. I’m just not that invested in the Prince That Was promised, or any prophecy, really. I want the characters I’ve come to love—and hate—so much over the last almost-decade to go out with the emotional gutpunch that has come to define Game of Thrones so well, for better and for worse.
Oh, and last but not least, Hot Pie made improved direwolf bread.
Now you really know more than Jon Snow.
Game of Thrones returns Sunday, April 14 on HBO
Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Send her a raven via Twitter.