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"The Final End Game": What's In Store For Us When "Game Of Thrones" Returns?

The fantasy series has 15 episodes left at most. Here, our predictions for its next season.

"The Final End Game": What's In Store For Us When "Game Of Thrones" Returns?

[Photos: Helen Sloan, Macall B. Polay, courtesy of HBO]

Our watch is (nearly) ended.

Unofficial word for the past several months has been that Game of Thrones (which just capped its sixth season with an explosive finale) will end soon—and with abbreviated seasons. Well, in an interview with Deadline, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss say they have about 15 episodes of the series left to air, essentially confirming what viewers have feared.

Benioff said:

It’s two more seasons we’re talking about. From pretty close to the beginning, we talked about doing this in 70-75 hours, and that’s what we’ll end up with. Call it 73 for now.

And while Sunday’s episode tied up many of that season’s loose ends, it also set the stage for the bigger conflicts brewing on the horizon—ones we’ll be going into blindly as the series strays further from George R.R. Martin’s source material. Still, we can guess at next season’s direction, based on clues dropped in the show and by Benioff and Weiss themselves. Ahead, our predictions for Game of Thrones season 7. And beware: spoilers below.

Cersei: The Mad Queen?

In that same Deadline interview, Weiss says Cersei’s one redemptive trait was her love for her children. Now that Tommen has taken King’s Landing to its most literal meaning, there’s nothing left to humanize the newly coronated queen. Combined with the fact that most of her immediate enemies have just been obliterated in a blast of her own making, Cersei is free to rule in an environment absent of checks and balances. (Don’t forget that she also straight up snatched the Iron Throne, rules of succession be damned.) No doubt we’ll have fun getting to see one of the show’s most conniving players finally in a position of unrestrained power, but, this being Thrones, Cersei’s reign likely won’t be long. Aside from the fact that Daenarys is sailing straight for her, we can’t imagine that the other rulers in the Seven Kingdoms—the new King in the North, included—will leave her regime undisputed.

Jon Snow . . . or is it Targaryen?

Speaking of the King in the North, Jon Snow has come a long way for someone who started off the last season dead. With his parentage basically confirmed, Jon represents the series’s titular song of ice and fire as a half Stark, half Targaryen—a revelation that will likely have major repercussions for the battle against the dead. (Aunt Daenarys’ other dragons need riders, after all.) But while viewers are finally clued into the series’s worst-kept secret, the poor White Wolf is still operating under the assumption that he’s Ned Stark’s bastard. Though much of next season will probably see Jon’s crusade to band Northern folk and Wildlings together against the White Walkers and keep a resentful Sansa at bay (more on that below), it’ll also be a journey to the truth about his parents . . . and how the rest of Westeros’ power players will react when news finally spreads.

Sansa: Queen in the North?

Littlefinger planted the seed of Queen in the North in Sansa’s head, and while she seemingly supports her brother (cousin?) as leader of the North, the ambiguous look she gives Littlefinger at the finale’s end suggests that that seed is taking root. In HBOGo’s "Game of Thrones: Season 6 Game Revealed: Episodes 59 & 60" featurette, Benioff says no one is asking about Sansa’s legitimacy as queen. "She’s actually a true Stark, and she’s the one who brought in the Knights of the Vale," he says. "Maybe she deserves to be Queen of the North."

Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa, suggests questions about the eldest Stark daughter’s loyalty will come into play next year. "You really don’t know where they’re going to go from there," she says in the featurette. "You don’t know if Sansa’s just going to turn on Jon."

Related Video: The Many Cases Of Foreshadowing In Game Of Thrones We Should Have Seen Coming

Bran: Harbinger of Destruction

Bran has to return south of the Wall at some point, especially now that a Stark family reunion looks more likely than ever with Arya back in Westeros. Aside from the fact that his semi-undead Uncle Benjen dumped him on the Night Watch’s front step, Bran is seemingly the only person aware of Jon’s real parents and, thus, is the most likely candidate to set off Jon’s existential crisis. A tiny problem, however: Benjen tells Bran and Meera that he cannot take them past the Wall because of "ancient spells carved into its foundation" that keep the dead from passing through. How much do you want to bet that those ancient spells are the same spells that kept the White Walkers out of the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave—the very cave that the Night King eventually broke into, thanks to the mark he left on Bran? Chances are, Bran’s voyage south will end in the destruction of Chekhov’s Wall, giving the dead passageway to the living.

Photo: Helen Sloan, courtesy of HBO

Arya Stoneheart

Lady Stoneheart seems to be out of the picture once and for all, leaving Arya as the probable conduit for all that vengeful energy. In HBO’s behind-the-scenes look at the season finale, Benioff admits Arya’s evolution into a highly skilled murderer is "a worrisome narrative." "If you love Arya, you have to be a little worried about where she goes from here," he says.

As Arya turns into more of a stone-hearted killer, it makes sense to expect to see a few more names crossed off her list by next season’s end. Who are the most likely candidates? Well, a certain Red Woman recently banished from Winterfell is on a fortuitous journey south (remember that Melisandre predicted Arya’s future as an assassin—and promised they would meet again). And the Hound, who Arya had left for dead at the end of season four, is roving around Westeros once more.

Unbreakable Daenarys Targaryen

Daenarys is on a collision course for King’s Landing, that much is clear. The big question, however, is what exactly will happen once the Mother of Dragons makes landfall. Now that Cersei’s cache of wildfire has gone kabloom, the next season’s biggest hardship will be setting up challenges that seem like a legitimate threat to a woman backed by an army of Unsullied and Dothraki, three vengeful families, and three actual fire-breathing dragons. Perhaps 2017 will be the year Daenarys finally takes the Iron Throne, devoting the final season for the real war against the White Walkers.

Photo: Macall B. Polay, courtesy of HBO

Jaime: Kingslayer Part 2?

In the "Game Revealed" video, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau says Jaime "does not understand" what Cersei has done, going so far as to suggest that he doesn’t "know who that person is now." Prior to that, however, no one else knew Cersei as well as Jaime did, or understood how terrifying it would be to have her on the Iron Throne. As Jaime comes to learn of Tommen’s death and the wildfire explosion—the very disaster he killed the Mad King Aerys to avoid—his relationship to a ruthless and power hungry Cersei will invariably strain. Some already theorize that he, and not Daenarys, may be forced to put an end to Cersei’s reign, thereby repeating his most infamous crime for the sake of the Seven Kingdoms. In this case, Queenslayer would be more appropriate.

. . . And Everyone Else

If Jaime and Daenarys don’t get Cersei first, Tyrion may play a role in his older sister's downfall. Brienne will row her way back North for her long-awaited reunion with Tormund. Sam will . . . learn things, probably important knowledge that will prove vital in the fight against the White Walkers. Lady Olenna will hurl repeated verbal abuse upon the Sand Snakes. Euron will reunite with Yara and Theon—who will be backed by Daenarys’ dragons, of course. And the Night King will make an icy appearance; after all, we check in on the White Walkers at least once a season to remind us of the real war ahead.

Related Video: George R.R. Martin On Why He Had To Kill Jon Snow, And So Many Others

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