Valar morghulis. Valar dohaeris. All men must die. All men must serve.
In a previous story I theorized, hoped — even dared to dream a little! —that Brienne of Tarth will survive the Battle of Winterfell, the expected centerpiece of the third episode of this final season of “Game of Thrones.” She very well may!
There’s no reason to abandon all hope for all who are gathered at Helm’s Deep . . . er, Winterfell. Among the few things that can be counted on with this show are its out of nowhere “surprise” saves that makes no sense beyond pleasing the fans.
But since there’s no reason to be anything less than realistic, for at least 10 characters — and I’m being conservative with that count — Sunday is where it all ends. And if there be tears in our future, some of that crying will be over the nature of a beloved character’s death in addition to the death itself.
When one plays the game of thrones, the choices are to win or die; when one writes an episode of “Game of Thrones,” the smart money bets on the writers making the expedient choices over complex ones in order move the action from point A to point B, even if certain elements don’t make any sense. In the realm of television, expedient resolutions often lead us back tried and true moves.
You know: tropes.
They are legion. Some might as well be law. Often we roll our eyes at their usage, even when they’re employed for a reason. The question for a number of other characters, is how death comes and what purpose, if any, that death serves.
Let’s start with the safe list, as far as one can tell: Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, Bran Stark and Tyrion Lannister each have some part to play in the final battle for the Seven Kingdoms. Probably. This doesn’t necessarily mean any of them will end up in the big chair, but each has come too far to meet their end in halfway through the final season in the cold grey North.
Sandor Clegane won’t have a great time of it on the battlefield, but I doubt he’s likely to die either. Otherwise why would the writers have him face off with his undead brother Gregor in the seventh season finale? Everybody wants the grudge match rumble between Mountain and the Hound.
Similarly, Gendry probably won’t die, seeing as he’s the last living Baratheon and has a shot, at long last, of being made an official member of his house by a ruler who doesn’t appreciate being named a bastard and treated as such.
Varys is also less likely to die in the North than in the place that made him the man he is today, although who in the heck knows? He’s stashed in the Winterfell crypt, supposedly in safety, but as we glimpsed in a number of preview trailers, something is making Arya flee in terror down there. Methinks the big twist won’t be in the field but a vulnerability the living didn’t account for, which is that the Night King can animate the dead.
Also likely to live, but not necessarily a sure survivor, is Jaime Lannister — otherwise, what’s the point in rebelling against his sister-lover, if not for the opportunity to rub his decision to do the right thing in her face, just before she has him killed? And then regrets doing so?
But I promised a death list chock full of tropery, the likes of which has popped up in many other series and stories. So without further ado here are a few scenarios about who is likely die and how they’ll go, as well as a few caveats, along with the obvious disclaimer that this is all guesswork for the entertainment purposes only.
Cause of Death: Terminal heroics and being small in a wide world of great wights.
Higher Purpose: To leave the keys to Bear Island to Ser Jorah, who lives on in a new world where nobody left alive cares about his past sins of selling slaves. A pardon by Khaleesi will also help this. Bonus points if Ser Jorah is forced to put his reanimated niece down and, as is true when she was alive, has a hell of a time doing so.
Cause of Death: Terminal heroics; cosmic penance.
Higher Purpose: Theon betrayed Winterfell several times, and Bran and Sansa specifically. He’s repaid Sansa, and her embrace means she’s forgiven him. But by agreeing to be Bran’s bodyguard against the Night King when Bran is specifically offering himself up as bait, Theon is basically signing up to go out as gloriously as possible. Since he won’t be armed with any Valyrian steel, however, any duels he’s called to engage in are likely to be very short.
Cause of Death: Doesn't matter — this time it's going to stick.
Higher Purpose: To cast doubt on all the Lord of Light-related certainty. No battle lacks that moment when all faith and hope dims.
Cause of Death: Defending Gilly and the wee greyscale Shireen stand-in when, somehow, he discovers the crypts are compromised.
Higher Purpose: To grant the Onion Knight a chance to save one little girl who reminds him of another little girl that he loved and was not there to defend. As I’ve said before, this series has a yen for narrative symmetry that way.
Grey Worm and/or Missandei
Cause of Death: Post-war dream vacation planning before the battle begins.
Secondary Cause of Death: Making promises that can’t be kept (Grey Worm promises to protect Missandei before marching off to the front).
Tertiary Cause of Death: Being the only black people in a land full of white people overrun by wight people.
Higher Purpose: Hello! Have you never heard of horror movie rules? Folks are facing down an army of zombies here. Making plans or assurances before an ultimate danger has passed is always an act of taunting fate, and everybody knows the token black folks almost always bite it in these things. While it would be nice if these crazy kids actually make it to the beaches of Naath, I have my doubts.
Cause of Death: Biting off more than he can chew.
Secondary Cause: Being replaced by a dragon.
Higher Purpose: We all hate seeing the direwolves go, but Ghost hasn’t been around very much lately, save for a cameo on the sidelines during “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Additionally, direwolves are Stark thing, and as we know, Jon is a Targaryen, not a Stark.
However, wouldn’t it be great if the producers blew a chunk of the budget to have Ghost call in nature’s reinforcements by way of summoning Nymeria and her pack to take out a chunk of the Night King’s forces before he gets shipped off to a farm upstate?
Cause of Death: Terminal heroics by way of dashing into an overwhelming fray.
Higher Purpose: To save and impress Brienne of Tarth one last time — if he couldn’t close the deal by the hearth, he’s got no shot at fulfilling his dream of making great monstrous babies with the Lady (now Ser) of the Sapphire Island. Might as well die by showing her what a man weaned on giant's milk can do!
Cause of Death: Terminal heroics, by way of pulling off several extraordinary acts of swordplay.
Secondary Cause: Having the voice of a caramel-dipped angel.
Higher Purpose: Podrick is one of the few genuinely nice, honorable, loyal guys in Westeros who also is reportedly gifted in the sack. The moment he also showed us that he could sing on top of all that, it was fairly obvious the perfect Payne is too good for this cold, cruel world.
Cause of Death: Terminal heroics/disappearance/unknown
Higher Purpose: Out of all the elite fighters people expect will survive the Battle of Winterfell, Arya must be near the top of that list. That also means she’ll be out in the thick of it with that fly-as-hell weapon of hers, being incredible. And cocky. But if there were ever a time to take advantage of the thick confusion of battle to go missing, this is it. Remember, Arya has a driving mission beyond saving Winterfell — that kill list of hers — and it requires as much stealth and darkness as she can summon. And what’s stealthier than being presumed dead?
*Caveats: 1) Remember the movie and TV series trope that regardless of what we see, until a body pops up, all bets are off. What makes this more difficult is Arya's skills as a Faceless Man: she has a lot of illusions up her sleeve. 2) A few seasons back a younger Arya crossed paths with Melisandre, who informed her they would meet again. Could it be that they will, in order for the Red Woman to resurrect her?
Cause of Death: Zombie Viserion and the Night King
Secondary Cause: Evening the odds
Higher Purpose: Besides making a whole lot of dragon fans burst out into hot tears? The fact is that Drogon is pretty much the muscle behind Daenerys, not to mention as close to a familiar as she can get. Out of all her dragons, he is the one she is the most connected to, so when the moment looks darkest for her, he’ll sacrifice himself to make sure she lives and, hopefully, take down his undead sibling in the process. This, in turn, puts the onus on Dany to prove her might without the firepower of a flying lizard to back her up. What is she without her pet weapon? And will Rhaegal prefer Jon as a rider?
Brienne of Tarth
Cause of Death: Surprise demise, at the moment we breath a sigh of relief that’s she’s actually made it.
Secondary Cause: Brienne achieved the single goal she’s desired above all else but never thought would be hers: knighthood. There was one item on her bucket list, and with the help of Jaime, Brienne has checked it off.
Higher Purpose: What would really suck, but is completely in line with “Game of Thrones” foolishness, is if Brienne were to die in order to incite Jaime to realize she’s been his North Star all along. Brienne clearly loves Jaime, and the one-time Golden Lion is obviously smitten with her, in his own way. At last they’ll fight side by side of the battlefield, backing up one another and surviving many instances of certain death.
Then comes one of the most reliable tropes in all of screenwriting: the very second it looks at if they’ve prevailed, and she smiles widely at him — schwick! — out from nowhere sails an ice javelin, impaling her.
Maybe she’ll get a few last words once Jaime nixes the White Walker culprit. Maybe not. But in any case, this would be a callback to another familiarity of the series, which is using women to activate the heroism of the men in their lives. Is this very specific? Sure.
Do I hope I’m wrong? Naturally. I hope every single one of the scenarios listed above is incorrect, because that would mean Grey Worm and Missandei get a chance to sunbathe in peace, that Tormund finds another giantess to court, that Sansa gets to adopt Ghost, and that Drogon enjoys a life of retirement, lighting bonfires for deserving boys and girls.
Lovely fantasies to entertain, but unlikely in this cruel fantasy tale. By the end of Sunday’s episode, we’ll know if any of these predictions play out as stated. But in this case, being right won’t make us feel any better.