Brace yourself. Spoilers are coming.
*Hums excitedly* Bum bum bah dah bum bum bah dah bum bum bah bum bum bum.
Game of Thrones Season 8 returns to HBO on Sunday and never have the Valyrian words valar morghulis (all men must die) been more anxiety inducing. While the show has never shied away from brutally killing off some beloved heroes and villains, there are still plenty of warriors, heirs and watchers on the wall to (probably futilely) cheer for. Here’s a selection.
With enough contention over seats of power to rival the Florida 2018 midterms, almost anyone can wind up on the Iron Throne, winning the eponymous Game of Thrones. But here are the top contenders.
Lena Heady as Cersei Lannister
Cersei has become a stalwart for simultaneously beloved and reviled characters. The current Queen of the Seven Kingdoms might be the closest in proximity to the Iron Throne, but it’s cost her all her children to get there. Not to mention the kingdom she rules is splintered and threatened by men and White Walkers alike. Cersei starts the season mostly alone, maybe pregnant and still planning to double cross anyone she can to wrest a sense of power.
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen. [HBO]
Much like Cersei, the quest for the Iron Throne has come at a great price for the last (so she thinks) Targaryen. She’s lost a husband, a child and even one of the dragons that helped cement her power and mystique throughout the realm. As Season 8 starts, Dany is heading back to Winterfell with her nephew/lover Jon Snow, possibly more powerful than ever with the full strength of the north to help her. Her claim is among the strongest, but that could change once she finds out Jon Snow is actually…
Aegon Targaryen/Jon Snow
Kit Harington as Jon Snow. [HBO]
While most of the characters in the series have fought, killed and conned in an effort to assume power, few have had it more reluctantly thrust upon them than current King-in-the-North Jon Snow. He’s one of the few who’s been fighting for the actual survival of the kingdom over his own self and his natural leadership has someone come to the fore in spite of his broodingly morose demeanor. Now that we know he is actually Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, his claim to the throne is even stronger than Dany’s, which she might take umbrage with.
In fact, the only one with a stronger claim could be…
Joe Dempsie as Gendry [HBO]
The seed is strong and getting stronger. As the only one of Robert Baratheon’s bastard children to escape Joffrey’s baby-killing purge, Gendry is the last legitimate heir to the most recent king (sorry Cersei). Though he hasn’t been a major player in the series, he’s one of the few characters to stick around since Season 1 and the latest trailer has him back at the blacksmith’s forge after pulling a marathon-esque note delivering feat to save Jon and Co. from the Night King.
Every queen and king needs their armies. Here are some left fighting for those fighting for the throne.
John Bradley as Samwell Tarly. [HBO]
Sam could very well be the scribe behind the Song of Ice and Fire. Though feeble and barely able to lift a sword, his compassion and knowledge have been invaluable and he’s somehow managed to survive. He even killed a White Walker all on his own.
Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane
Hafpor Julius Bjornsson as Gregor Clegane. [HBO]
He managed to literally squeeze the life out of Oberyn Martell before the effects of a poisoned spear took hold of him during a trial by combat in Season 4. And as he lay dying, the sniveling and conniving (and also somehow still alive) Maester Qyburn uses some unorthodox methods to turn him into a menacing zombie-like monster member of the Queen’s Guard.
Sandor “the Hound” Clegane
Rory McCann as Sandor Clegane [HBO]
The younger, fire-scarred brother of the Mountain, the Hound has also narrowly avoided death. He’s also grown from a child-killing yes man to a warrior of the light set to redeem his soul and fight along side Jon and Dany against the Night King.
The Stark kids
Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark and Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark. [HBO]
It might feel like more Starks have died, but three-fifths of the kids remain. Sure, both parents are gone, as are Rob and Rickon, but Sansa, Bran and Arya are proving a mighty force back in Winterfell. Sansa has become a cunning and experienced leader. She studied under Cersei, Joffrey, Tyrion, Petyr Baelish and now her brother/cousin Jon Snow. There’s even a chance she makes it to the Iron Throne. Arya is an absolute fan favorite and one of the baddest characters on the show. There’s few tougher and more adept at killing than her. And Bran…er...the Three-Eyed-Raven. He’s basically a like a god or something now. So yeah, things are getting pretty stacked in the North.
Tom Wlaschiha as Jaqen H'ghar. [HBO]
Kind of like an Obi-Wan Kenobi, but with a lot more murder. He teams with Arya shortly after leaving Winterfell in Season 2 and helps her join the Faceless Men of Braavos, training her to be the killer she’s become. He wasn’t around in Season 7, but he’s out there and I, for one, am still hoping for the reveal that he’s been Syrio Forel this whole time.
Daniel Portman as Podrick Payne. [HBO]
You guys remember that time Pod saved Tyrion from certain death during the Battle of Blackwater so Tyrion repaid him by taking him to Littlefinger’s brothel and buying him three ladies, but they had such a good time with him they wouldn’t take his money and Tyrion and Bronn couldn’t believe? Ahh, I love this guy. Not much of a fighter, but glad he’s still kicking.
Brienne of Tarth
Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth. [HBO]
She’s probably the fiercest warrior left in Westeros. Hopefully her sense of honor and duty won’t be her downfall, but she’ll certainly be an asset as the armies of the North prepare to battle the Night King.
Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion
Kristofer Hivju as Tormund Giantsbane and Richard Dormer as Beric Dondarrion.
These two teamed up in Season 7 and left us with a giant cliffhanger as they were seemingly killed when zombie-dragon Viserion destroyed Eastwatch. Though they haven’t seen a whole lot of time together, they’ve got enough chemistry to rival Tormund’s infatuation with Brienne. Tormund is one of the wildest of Wildlings and Beric no longer has Thoros of Myr to constantly revive him when he dies. These two might not make it, but it’ll be one heck of a ride seeing if they do.
Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
Aidan Gillen as Petyr Baelish. [HBO]
But we watched him get his throat slit by Arya. True, but we also know a few things about him. He’s really good at getting out of death, his family is from Braavos and he seems pretty aware of the House of Black and White. Furthermore, in one of his final scenes, a girl comes up to him and says, “your time is up.” Then he hands her a coin. Popular fan theories have this as him giving her a coin from the House of Black and White as a way to pay a Faceless Man to die for him.
This leads some fans to speculate Littlefinger might return once the forces of the dead and the living wipe each other out to become the King of Ashes.
George R.R. Martin even hinted that the bad guys could win when he said “the protagonist doesn’t have to be likable or moral or a good guy. He just has to be interesting.”
Whoever wins, Season 8 is set to be full of shock, blood and dragons. And there’s plenty other characters we can’t wait to see, such as Lyanna Mormont, Melisandre, Davos Seaworth, Jamie and Tyrion Lannister, and many more.
Tell us who you’re most excited to see and who you think will be the one to sit on the Iron Throne.
Catch Game of Thrones when it premieres April 14 on HBO.