And though some fans have grown impatient with the season-long “sitzkreig” that’s seen more conversations in the crypt than actual action, there’s reason for viewers to dread the long-awaited arrival of the Night King’s forces at Winterfell because, as often mentioned last week, not everyone is making it out alive to fall back to the Iron Islands.
Below, based on a few storytelling hints and whatever passes for potential narrative logic (along with maybe just a little bit of wishful thinking), are rankings of the prospects of survival for characters major and minor in the upcoming battle with the Army of the Dead.
Safe (for now):
The Night King: Ending a fight that’s been promised the whole series within a span of one episode feels a bit far-fetched. Plus, given he knows whatever Bran knows, he’s a few steps ahead in terms of already knowing he’s the target. Will he even be around on Sunday?
Daenerys Targaryen: You don’t spend seven seasons building up a royal title like Breaker of Chains en route to bringing about a righteous close to a terrible run of rule by men only to get knocked off your dragon with three episodes to go. Although, given this is “Game of Thrones,” it would be a power move to kill off Dany and everyone else before revealing the whole series resides in a snow globe. Still, this seems unlikely.
Jon Snow: He’s died once already, after all, but the former bastard currently known as Aegon Targaryen should survive for no other reason than to finish that conversation with his aunt/lover Dany about his claim to the throne. Oh, and he can ride a fire-breathing dragon, which certainly helps.
Brandon Stark: Sure, he’s bait for the Night King with no defensive abilities, and thus far every human plan has gone poorly, but Bran seems just as valuable to any ending the series has planned as its two would-be monarchs. Besides, his becoming a time-traveling mystic has to be more useful to this story than merely serving as a human embodiment of 23 and Me for Jon, doesn’t it?
It’s getting chilly, but your long night hasn’t begun:
Arya Stark: Maybe the fastest fighter alive isn’t going to be at the front, which means she’s likely to be with the women and children in the crypts. As has been repeated everywhere on the internet, this is a terrible idea. (The show all but underlined this by having testaments to their safety repeated almost as often as “Winter is Coming.”) So whether Arya winds up being forced to face whatever’s left of her reanimated ancestors or not, she’s in a lot of danger. Still, the story invested a lot in her character to this point, and it feels like there’s at least one more face-swapping murder in her future before she falls.
Jaime Lannister: Yes, he spurned his sister/lover to fight for the living and knighted Brienne in a swoon-worthy moment that testified to how far he’s come since the cocky, off-brand Denis Leary he appeared as in the first season. With just one working hand, could he suffer an honorable death in the service of Brienne? Possibly, but with so much unresolved business with his sister — and fan theories about his being her “valonqar” — now is probably not the time. Plus, every good knight needs a death to avenge (see Brienne).
Tyrion Lannister: Tyrion will be in the crypts as well, and possibly still drunk, so his survival is an open question. Plus, given how his status has diminished, he’s maybe outlived his usefulness. Don’t bet on it. Tyrion has long carried the show’s best lines in the Emmy-winning role of the audience’s surrogate, and he also has too many loose ends in King’s Landing (along with his possible feelings for Daenerys). Plus, the show gave a lot of space to ensuring Tyrion not be fired as Hand to the Queen for him to lose his head now, especially with Bronn en route to murder both him and Jaime.
Sandor “The Hound” Clegane: Though that last conversation with Arya could function as a kind of closure for this reformed instrument of death, the Hound ultimately has to meet his zombie brother the Mountain in King’s Landing and kick off Clegane Bowl before this show is through.
You look a little pale, would you like to lie down?
Sansa Stark: Now we’re getting to the tough part. As her sister said, Sansa is one of the smartest characters left, and the meeting between her and Daenerys last week imagined a new era with two queens on level footing negotiating a peaceful future. Feels good, right? Still, this show has a hard time with optimism, and being in the crypt without Brienne means she’s at risk. Sansa is a proven survivor, but from a narrative standpoint how many wards of the North does this show need?
Davos Seaworth: There’s no compelling narrative argument for this former pirate to survive this fight. And yet, perhaps for the unresolved grief attached to the death of Shireen (hinted at last week), he has earned his spot as the show’s gruff voice of reason before what should be one last encounter with Melisandre.
Go ahead and skip this month’s credit card payment:
Ser Brienne of Tarth: This one will hurt, especially with all those feelings for Jaime still unresolved. But, after receiving an overdue knighthood and flashing the brightest smile in Westeros, dying with valor seems all that remains to her journey. (Hopefully, it will be in Jaime’s arms.)
Samwell Tarly: Before dropping out of Maester Polytechnic at the Citadel, Sam drew from ancient texts to save Jorah’s life and discover Jon’s true parentage. But despite his standing as the first man to kill a White Walker, it’s hard to justify his survival unless there’s one more secret hiding in a book somewhere.
Beric Dondarrion: On some level, the show needs this oft-resurrected disciple of the Lord of Light, if only because he’s one of the last connections to that cryptic mythology. Plus, lighting your sword on fire looks cool. That said, he’s long been ready to die in the service of whatever his god has planned. Hopefully, during this battle, we find out what that is.
Gendry: His standing as Robert Baratheon’s bastard remains intriguing, but let’s just say that sleeping with a Stark doesn’t help anyone’s survival. Thanks for the weapons and helping usher Arya into adulthood, by the way.
Jorah Mormont: Sam sealed his fate by presenting him with his family sword in a long, heartfelt farewell that all but drew a bull’s-eye on Jorah’s chest. It’s a shame the once-disgraced knight survived the Greyscale plague only to die here, but at least he finally came home to the North and counseled his beloved queen one last time.
Theon Greyjoy: For all of the indignities and cowardly disappointment Theon/Reek has endured over his miserable life, a death with honor here — probably in the service of saving a Stark one last time — feels not just ordained but somehow redemptive.
Grey Worm: “I will take you there,” the noble leader of the Unsullied told his beloved Missandei when she spoke about missing the warmth of home. Go ahead, plan for a happily-ever-after getaway just before a battle against impossible odds, that always works out.
Missandei: See above.
Podrick: Ever the good and faithful squire, Podrick enjoyed a literal swan song last week, and should this be his time, he will die content knowing the honor of opening for Florence + The Machine. Still, his legend lives on inside the brothels of King’s Landing.
Lord Varys: One of the series’ most fascinating characters who stayed one step ahead of the game with his birds at King’s Landing, Varys hasn’t had much to do of late other than trade barbs with Tyrion. Fun as that is, it’s hard to imagine him scheming his way out of the crypts.
Tormund Giantsbane: Farewell, you giant-slaying, milk-chugging galoot. May your ginger dreams be filled with the big woman in the hereafter.
Eddison Tollett: You’ve been Jon’s friend since his days on the Night’s Watch, and it’s a terrible sign for your survival that I had to look up your name.
Gilly and little Sam: On the bright side, Sam most likely won’t be around to mourn your deaths.
That little girl from the breadline who Davos promised would be safe in the crypts (along with every other refugee huddled under Winterfell who heard the same story): Sorry.