This Sunday’s much-anticipated premiere of Game of Thrones for its 8th and final season has been one of the most exhaustingly chronicled of any season in recent history. So many fan theories and book tidbits and speculation about Daenerys and Jon Snow and Rhaegar Targaryen and the Stark catacombs and the ice dragon and all the secrets Samwell Tarly is learning at the Citadel. We’re sure there exists one combined theory that will sum up all the events of Game of Thrones in one concise take. This is not that take.
See, part of the fun of GOT has always been the side hustles. Random characters — your Hot Pies, your Gillys, your Beric Dondarrions — who we invested in more than we really needed to, because it was fun to imagine that this dramatic class of kings, this song of ice and fire, hinged upon whether Ser Pounce would ever be found bounding through the Red Keep again. (We’re waiting.)
So while Tyrion and Cersei will end up scheming and backstabbing each other til the last, and we all sit on pins and needles waiting for the moment Jon Snow realizes he’s banging his Auntie Dany, we’re nurturing some truly niche rooting interests for the final six episodes. Join is, won’t you?
Can Sansa Stark Win?
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) hasn’t always been the most fan-favorite character on the show, but there’s always been a small but vocal cult of Sansa loyalists who stuck with her through the rough years in King’s Landing, then emerged as a vocal bandwagon right around the time she descended that staircase at the Eyrie with that black feathered dress and slicked-back hair, unofficially declaring herself as a Player. Terrible things have happened to Sansa from pretty much the beginning of the show: her direwolf was put down by her own father for biting Joffrey; her father was then beheaded by the very prince she spent the whole season making moon-eyes over; she had to then be engaged to Joffrey for a season and a half; she was nearly raped/murdered during an anti-crown riot in Fleabottom; she was blamed for Joffrey’s death and thus had to flee for her life; she had to put up with Littlefinger’s advances, Auntie Lysa’s jealousies, and that was all before being married off to Ramsay Bolton, and the less said about her traumatic wedding night, the better.
It’s not like we think Sansa should end up ruling Westeros because terrible things have happened to her. It’s that she’s become steel forged in tragedy and has shown herself to be a far more pragmatic and strong leader than, say, her brother Jon. And she’s managed not to become a thrill-killer like, say, her sister Arya. Last season, Sansa was put in charge of the North, which would have seemed like an appropriate reward, except it mostly meant “here, watch the castle while I, Jon Snow, go do serious business with Daenerys and the Lannisters.” Only the old gods and the new know which of Jon, Dany, Tyrion, or Cersei will end up on top in the end (it is verrrry unlikely it will be anyone else, unless the White Walkers really do prevail), but just know that whichever of them ends the series in charge, Sansa will deserve it more.
Will the Realm Ever Truly Thank Lord Varys?
Varys (Conleth Hill) is such a practiced schemer and liar that everybody refers to him as a spider. To his face! He doesn’t much seem to care that his reputation as a manipulating master of whispers is so much on front street. Especially now that he’s full ensconced on Team Daenerys. Still, of any character on the canvass, there’s the most mystery and intrigue surrounding Varys. We still don’t know what that voice was that he heard in the flames of the brazier where the sorcerer who castrated him burned his … parts. We still don’t know what Melisandre meant when she told him that they are both destined to die in Westeros. What we do know is that Varys has repeatedly claimed that his one real loyalty is not to any king or queen but to the Realm itself. And despite being a professional liar, we believe him. As one of the few purely altruistic characters on this show, it would be nice if, before he meets his prophesied end in Westeros, somebody thanked him on behalf of the Realm.
What of That One Last Time Melisandre Has to Return to Westeros?
The other half of red priestess Melisandre’s (Carine Van Houten) foreboding prediction to Varys has us just as intrigued. “I must die in this strange country,” she told Varys, before promising to skeedaddle to Volantis rather than cross paths with Jon Snow again. He and Davos are still mad about that whole “burning Shireen at the stake” thing. And … yeah, that was bad. But it does seem that Melisandre has grown since we first saw her freaking out Stannis’s soldiers and birthing shadow babies on Draonstone. After her certainty in Stannis as Azhor Ahai (“the prince who was promised”) turned out to be wrong, Mel began to experience the strange emotion known as humility. It makes her a more complex person and a more intriguing figure in the series’ endgame.
Uh … Theon, We Suppose?
Honestly, caring about what becomes of Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) feels like being made the butt of some grand yet cruel joke. Every time it seems that our erstwhile Reek has pulled himself together and determined to atone for every rotten thing he’s ever done (and avenge every rotten thing that’s been done to him), be commits another act of cowardice. The latest was letting boorish Uncle Euron abduct his sister Yara without so much as a fight. Shamed again, Theon has only six more episodes in which to make good. Which, one assumes, involves saving Yara from King’s Landing. But here we are, investing in another Theon redemption arc again.
Any Way We Can Avoid Noble Deaths for Brienne and Davos?
With battle epics like these, certain arcs begin to feel familiar. One of the great virtues of Game of Thrones has been its willingness to run counter to the usual hero narratives. But this one seems pretty obvious: the two most loyal characters on the show, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Lady Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), seem destined to die heroes’ deaths. And probably in defense of those to whom they’ve pledged their swords (Davos to Jon Snow; Brienne to … well, technically Sansa and Arya Stark, though her realest loyalty is likely to Jaime Lannister). And while those noble deaths would be stirring and emotional high points for the series’ end, at the end of the day, we just like them too much to let them go.
In fact, here’s an alternative to Davos and Brienne laying down their lives for their higher-billed co-stars: have the two of them team up with the show’s other loyalist right-hands — Bronn, for example, and Missandei, and, hell, Meera Reed isn’t doing anything now that Bran gave her leave — and form a kind of strike force. Or, like, a consulting firm for whomever does end up on the throne.
Can Podrick and Gendry Please Kiss?
This one …. might just be for us. But squire-to-Brienne Pod (Daniel Portman) and secret-Baratheon-bastard Gendry (Joe Dempsie) are both so handsome in such similar ways, and neither one of them appears to have major plot requirements in the final season. And also everything in Westeros is so dire and violent; wouldn’t it be nice to end up with a pair of boyfriend-twins in Pod and Gendry who get a good four minutes of screen time to French each other? ...No? Ugh, fine.
Please Let the Iron Throne Itself Survive
This one sounds like the most futile rooting interest of all. On a symbolic level alone, we can’t imagine that a series like Game of Thrones, with all its “break the wheel” talk of tearing down the violent regimes of Westeros, will let the series end with the Iron Throne — the very symbol of rule through warfare and brutality — intact. It’ll melt under dragonfire or get smashed by a White Walker or Cersei will ride it into actual Hell like a cart on Big Thunder Mountain.
Honestly, the Iron Throne should be destroyed. We’re only mourning for the loss of some truly great art direction. We’d make the same plea in defense of Stannis’s giant map table on Dragonstone or the weeping weirwood trees in Winterfell. Keep Westeros Weird! is basically what we’re arguing. Winter is here, so let’s cover up the good furniture.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.