The final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is nearly upon us, so we’re here to help two kinds of people: Existing fans who want a refresher, and those of you who have never watched the show but would like to be in on the inevitable water-cooler talk.
Keep reading for a full summary of everything you absolutely need to know about “Game of Thrones” before diving into season eight.
Game of Thrones began with the promise of an imminent threat on the world of men in a fictional medieval-fantasy continent called Westeros.
In the opening scene, we see mysterious inhuman figures — called White Walkers — attack three men who are ranging in the far north of Westeros. They left behind a pattern of body parts, indicating a greater intelligence and purpose behind the violence.
But nearly everyone in Westeros believes the White Walkers are nothing more than an old myth, a tale told to frighten children.
The rest of the world is too busy vying for the main seat of power in Westeros: The Iron Throne.
Westeros used to be divided into Seven Kingdoms. But hundreds of years before the events of Game of Thrones, a family called the Targaryens came and conquered the continent.
The Targaryens ruled for centuries before a rebelling group of lords usurped power.
The leaders of houses Baratheon, Stark, and Lannister eventually brought down King Aerys Targaryen II (called by most “The Mad King”) and his son, Prince Rhaegar.
This rebellion took place 19 years before the main events of Game of Thrones.
This became known as Robert’s Rebellion, and it was started in part because of a secret love.
Robert Baratheon was engaged to Lyanna Stark, the younger sister of his best friend Ned Stark.But Lyanna loved another: Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.
They ran off together and were wed in a secret ceremony.
Lyanna became pregnant with Rhaegar’s baby, but hid in a castle tower while Rhaeger went to deal with Robert’s Rebellion.
Robert killed Rhaegar in battle, and Jaime Lannister killed the Mad King.
Jaime Lannister was part of the kingsguard, an elite group of men sworn to protect the king at all costs.
But King Aerys was a cruel man, and was threatening to burn the entire city of King’s Landing and the millions within it.
So Jaime killed him in order to save the people of his city. But no one knew this motivation, and Jaime was believed to simply be a dishonourable man who broke a sacred oath in an act of betrayal.
Meanwhile, Lyanna gave birth to a baby boy.
Ned Stark found Lyanna in that hidden tower just as she was dying (likely as a result of birthing complications).
Ned brought the baby home with him and called him Jon Snow.
In reality, Jon was one of the last living Targaryens and the heir to the Iron Throne.
The only other two Targaryens left were Prince Rhaegar’s younger siblings: Viserys and Daenerys.
Daenerys and Viserys escaped from Westeros before they could be killed by Robert’s soldiers.They grew up in exile in the neighbouring continent, Essos, for the next 19 years while Robert sat on the Iron Throne.
Daenerys and Viserys didn’t know about Jon Snow.
Viserys plotted to retake the Iron Throne, and Daenerys was sold into a marriage.But then Viserys got himself killed (by his sister’s husband, Khal Drogo) and Daenerys wound up ascending to power instead of her older brother.
To the world’s shock, Daenerys brought three dragons to life when she performed a blood magic ritual.
After her husband died and she miscarried her baby, Daenerys set three dragon eggs (thought to be fossils) in a funeral pyre and walked into the flame.
She emerged unscathed with three baby dragons — a walking miracle.
Like White Walkers, people had believed dragons were magical creatures the world would never see again.
They were dead wrong. The dragons grew in size, and Daenerys eventually learned how to control them.
As both Daenerys’ dragons and devoted following grew, war had broke out again Westeros.
After nearly two decades of King Robert’s rule, his wife Cersei Lannister (the twin of Jaime Lannister) carried out a plot to have him killed.
Cersei and Jaime are more than brother and sister: They’re also lovers. Together they had three incest-babies, all of whom Cersei passed off as Robert’s children.
One of Ned’s sons, Bran Stark, saw Jaime and Cersei having sex.
Jaime pushed Bran out of a window to try and kill him, but instead Bran was left paralysed from the waist down.The fall helped activate a new power in Bran called “greenseeing.” By the end of the series, Bran is the most powerful greenseer in the world, which means he can immerse himself in visions of the past, present, and possibly future.
But back to the war. House Stark and House Lannister were the two main families in this new feud.
Ned Stark had come to King’s Landing to try and help Robert, but they were both killed by Lannisters.That left Ned’s family behind to try and avenge his death. Ned had five children with his wife Catelyn: Robb, Sansa, Bran, Arya, and Rickon.
Ned’s oldest trueborn son Robb gathered an army to march against the Lannisters.
Robb was named by his bannerman as King in the North as they tried to retake the North as its own kingdom once more.
But the Lannisters defeated the Starks. At least, for a little while.
Robb and Catelyn, along with most of the Stark army, were murdered at a massacre known as the Red Wedding.
Meanwhile Sansa Stark had been held hostage in King’s Landing.
Sansa was forced to marry Tyrion Lannister, Cersei and Jaime’s little brother. Tyrion didn’t want this anymore than Sansa did; he was at odds with his own family most of the time.
An entirely different family, House Tyrell, was vying for power too.
Their matriarch, Lady Olenna Tyrell, had Joffrey poisoned at his wedding to Margaery. Joffrey was a known sadist and cruel king.
Olenna really wanted Margaery married to Tommen (Joffrey’s younger, and nicer, brother) instead. She got her wish.
Sansa and Tyrion were wrongfully blamed for Joffrey’s death, and they each escaped King’s Landing in different ways.
Tyrion was sentenced to death by his own father, Lord Tywin, but then set free by Jaime.Before he left King’s Landing, Tyrion killed his father. This enraged both Jaime and Cersei, though Jaime was always more compassionate with Tyrion.Tyrion fled to Essos, where he joined up with Daenerys and became her advisor.
Sansa escaped thanks to another conniving lord: Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish.
Littlefinger brought her back towards the north, stopping off first at the Vale, where he had co-opted power by manipulating Lady Arryn and her son Robin.Littlefinger killed Lysa, and then eventually brought Sansa back to the Stark home in the north — Winterfell.
After the Red Wedding, the backstabbing House Bolton had taken over the North.
Sansa was once again married to a man for political purposes. This time it was to Ramsay Bolton, the sadistic son of one of the men who had helped orchestrate the Red Wedding.
Sansa escaped from Ramsay with the help of Theon Greyjoy.
Theon used to be Ned Stark’s ward. He was the youngest son of Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands and a would-be king.When Balon tried and failed to re-establish the Iron Islands as their own kingdom, Ned took Theon as a pseudo-hostage and raised him at Winterfell.
Theon betrayed the Starks after Ned’s death, but tried to make things right by helping Sansa.
After getting Sansa to safety, Theon returned to the Iron Islands to be with his sister Yara. Their uncle Euron showed up, killed Balon, and claimed the Iron Islands.
Theon and Yara fled and joined Daenerys Targaryen’s forces. Euron went to Cersei Lannister and made an alliance with her.
Throughout all this, Cersei had continued to plot for power.
She and Jaime together killed the entire Tyrell family, but their other two children died in the fray.Cersei took the Iron Throne for herself, becoming the first Queen of Westeros.
And while all of that was happening, Ned’s other daughter Arya went on a journey.
She wound up in Essos, in a place called Braavos where an assassins guild called the Faceless Men reside.
Arya trained to be a Faceless Man, meaning she is a now a deadly assassin who can take the form of the people she has killed (and boy has she killed a lot of people).
Arya created a kill-list of all the people she wishes dead. Cersei is her top target.
Arya returned to Westeros and killed Walder Frey, one of the other men who helped orchestrate the Red Wedding.
She then returned home to Winterfell, where she reunited with most of her remaining living family.
Which brings us back to Jon Snow and his story line.
Since bastards are ostracized in Westeros, and Jon had no clear future prospects like Ned’s other children, he had joined the Night’s Watch.
The Night’s Watch is an ancient order that was established thousands of years earlier, when the Wall was first built.
The Wall was created to as a barrier between the realms of men and what lay beyond — the White Walkers.
But as we noted, the White Walkers fell into mythology and the Night’s Watch became a crumbling institution.
By the time Jon joined the Night’s Watch, the men spent most of their time fighting wildlings, “free folk.”
The free folk are all the people who live north of the Wall. They were viewed as enemies of the people of Westeros.
Jon went on a ranging mission beyond the Wall, and wound up as a prisoner of the free folk, and fell in love with a woman named Ygritte. She later died when the free folk tried to attack the Night’s Watch.
Jon came to see the Wildlings as just another group of people, while at the same time he learned the truth about the White Walkers’ existence.
White Walkers have the ability to raise corpses and skeletons, effectively creating an army of ice-zombies that do their bidding.
The Army of the Dead is lead by the Night King.
The Night King used to be a man, but he was transformed by a group of ancient beings called the Children of the Forest.
They made the Night King and the other White Walkers thousands of years ago, when the men first came to Westeros and were waging war against the Children.
But then the White Walkers grew out of their control, and began slaughtering everyone (including the Children). They were eventually defeated and lay dormant all this time…until now.
Jon knew he had to get the free folk south of the Wall, otherwise they’d end up in the Night King’s army.
After being elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon allowed the Wildlings to come south of the Wall.
This was an unprecedented move that earned Jon the respect of the Wildings but the hatred of some Westerosi men.
A group of dissenting Night’s Watch men assassinated Jon for “betraying” the Watch.
When Jon was killed, a man named Ser Davos Seaworth sought the help of a Red Priestess named Melisandre (who worships a god ca lled the Lord of Light, or R’hllor).
Davos had seen Melisandre perform magic before, and asked her to try and revive Jon Snow.
The plan worked. Jon came back to life, and Melisandre told him about a prophecy called The Prince That Was Promised.
But now Melisandre thinks the prophecy involves both Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.
So, back to Daenerys. While this drama was unfolding in Westeros, she conquered multiple cities and eventually became a queen.
She began liberating slaves from every city she came upon and sought to make the tradition of slavery in Essos a thing of the past.
Her devotion to liberating people and upending corrupt systems earned the Mother of Dragons a vast amount of loyal followers (and titles).
But what Daenerys really wanted all along was to sail back to her birthplace and reclaim the Targaryen throne.
She had acquired a Dothraki army, a legion of soldiers known as Unsullied, and found new allies with ships, so it was time to leave Essos.
Daenerys set sail for Westeros as a beloved queen with deeply loyal followers who believed she was the best possible ruler.
Which brings us to the events of season seven, when Daenerys arrived to Westeros.
By the time Daenerys got to Westeros, the newly resurrected Jon Snow had helped Sansa Stark take back Winterfell, defeat the Boltons, and was crowned King in the North by the surviving lords there.
Cersei was still seated on the Iron Throne, with Jaime at her side.
Cersei and Daenerys immediately began fighting for control of the Seven Kingdoms.
Daenerys dealt a serious blow to the Lannister forces when she attacked them using one of her dragons and the Dothraki army. She killed many men and several important highborn lords.
Cersei in turn won victories against Daenerys by having Euron Greyjoy destroy much of her fleet and capture Yara Greyjoy (Theon’s sister).
Jon Snow was summoned south by Daenerys to bend the knee.
He agreed to the meeting because he wanted to help defeat the Night King and his army, and he knew Daenerys would be a powerful ally.
But Sansa and the other Northern lords advised him against it, thinking a Targaryen couldn’t be trusted.
Jon went south, met Daenerys, and tried to find a way to convince the realm that the threat of the Night King was real.
As a desperate plan, Jon and Team Daenerys decided they needed to go beyond the Wall to find a wight and bring it back to Cersei to prove to her the Army of the Dead was coming.
They wanted her to agree to a truce, holding off on more internal fights between the living until the Dead were handled.
During this mission, Jon’s group was attacked by the Night King after they managed to find a wight.
Daenerys flew beyond the Wall with her three (now full-grown) dragons to rescue them.
The Night King killed one of the dragons, and Daenery and Jon barely escaped with their lives.Afterwards, Jon agreed to bend the knee to Daenerys and serve her as his queen.
The wight was brought south to King’s Landing and shown to Jaime and Cersei.
Jon gave a demonstration of how they could kill the wights with fire or dragonglass (obsidian).
The wight and White Walkers can also be killed with Valyrian steel, a rare metal in Westeros.
Cersei shot down the truce after she found out Jon had bent the knee to Daenerys.
This led to Tyrion going to a one-on-one negotiation with Cersei to try and convince her to change her mind.
At their meeting, Cersei all-but-told Tyrion she was pregnant (with Jaime’s child). We never saw the end of their conversation, but then Cersei returned to Daenerys and Jon and told them she’d have her armies go North to help fight the Night King.
Later, when Jaime began making arrangements with the troops, Cersei stopped him and said she had been lying about sending help.
This infuriated Jaime, who walked away from Cersei and said he would go North anyways.
Cersei was taken aback by what she perceived as his betrayal.
Sidenote about Jaime: He lost his right hand during the recent war.
Jaime had his sword-hand chopped off by a man holding him prisoner at one point. He only recovered in spirit thanks to a woman named Brienne of Tarth, who’s the most knightly warrior in Westeros even though she’s not allowed to carry the title.
Jaime and Brienne are deeply bonded, though she fights for the Starks and he was still Team Lannister.
Back in the North, Jon’s best friend Samwell Tarly arrived to Winterfell to try and help.
Sam had been in the Citadel, an ancient hub of learning in Westeros, and had uncovered several important things.
First he had remotely helped Jon secure a boatload of dragonglass by telling him where there was a cave full of it (on Daenerys’ castle-island, Dragonstone).
Major turns are in store for the final six episodes of Game of Thrones.
Cersei Lannister has a brittle grip on her power — she sent Euron to Essos so he can ferry back a mercenary army she’s decided to hire.
Jaime Lannister has decided to break with Cersei and head north to fight for the living.
Jon Snow bent the knee to Queen Daenerys Targaryen, and fell into bed with her without knowing she’s also his aunt.
The Night King is marching south to slaughter every living person in Westeros.
House Stark is a united front once more, with Sansa as Lady of Winterfell and her deadly assassin sister Arya at her side.
And Bran Stark is now the Three-Eyed Raven, a person with remarkable magical ability to see into the past, present, and future.
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