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One Countdown Down

Game of Thrones Season Seven Starts Sunday

We’ve been looking forward to this for a while.
HBO / Vox Media

The football season countdown drags on, but fantasy aficionados among us will at least have a diversion from the interminable wait Sunday night, when Home Box Office’s Game of Thrones returns for its seventh season.

Obsessive followers have surely seen all the recaps and precaps they care to read by now. So, in the spirit of sports over-analysis on which this society (to say nothing of this site) thrives, let’s assess the strengths and weaknesses of the major players to judge who soars and who stinks. Let’s also sprinkle in commentary about the characters’ stories and the way Benioff and Weiss have handled them. The goal, of course, is to start an argument. Because few things on the internet are more entertaining than arguments among people who own cosplay weaponry.

Main characters only. If you want to expound on Gilly, Hot Pie or the long-lost Gendry and his rowboat Odyssey, well…that’s what the comments section is for.

NEEDLESS WARNING: There may be spoilers below. Not that anyone knows what will happen anymore, because the show has outpaced the books. But click on just one “Thrones” article, and Yahoo concludes you want to read every crazy theory and ridiculous conclusion derived from the emoticon George RR Martin used on his latest blog post. Annoying. But not necessarily incorrect. Some internet guesses are intriguing and will be included in the discussion. If rank supposition will anger you or spoil the surprise if it turns out to be right, read no further. Because there will be supposition. And it will be rank. You’ve been warned.


Strengths: Can tap into the weirwood web to see and communicate with people in the present and the past. Has a loyal friend (or maybe more of a servant to the cause?) in Meera. The magical (and vaguely creepy) Children of the Forest back him even to the point of sacrificing their near immortality to protect him. Can warg into both animals and people. At least simpletons, if not all people. He alone knows the secret of Jon’s parentage, which for storytelling purposes shields his safety, for now.

Weaknesses: Has to be carted around on a litter. Is childishly foolish and foolishly childish. Got himself tossed off a tower by disobeying his mother, and cost Hodor his mental faculties and his life by meddling in the past for stubborn, selfish purposes. Some fans theorize that since the Night King touched him, Bran will destroy the magic of the Wall when he passes through it, thereby releasing the army of the dead into the South.

Commentary: Bran obviously must survive this season, at least, since he knows the big secret. Also, we have to believe his whole tedious journey served some central purpose yet to be revealed. Some have suggested that with his special and not fully understood powers, he will travel back in time and actually be Bran the Builder, who constructed the Wall eight millennia ago. Book readers will remember that the first chapter of the series (excluding the prologue) was told from Bran’s perspective. George RR Martin is not above killing point-of-view characters (see, e.g., Catelyn, Ned, and Quentyn Martel and Arys Oakheart, who are not in the show), but it seems unlikely he would dispose of the series’ very first perspective character.

Although it’s easy to relate to the young child Bran, who climbs the walls to get a birds-eye perspective of Winterfell, dreams of being a knight and is full of wonder and idealism, adolescent Bran has been a whiner and a reckless fool pretty much ever since his injury. He has not helped anyone, and has actively hurt some. (R.I.P., Hodor!) If he thinks he can travel back in time to “fix” everything—and he does, I assure you—he could be a threat to the very fabric of society. He could also render all that has happened a meaningless brain tease, a la Holden Caulfield or Inception, if he fiddles around with time anymore. That would make him the greatest villain of all.


Strengths: Has become a lethal revenge machine. Has transformed herself more than any other character in the show. Is finally back in Westeros, and snuffed the loathsome Walder Frey after feeding him pie filled with his own horrid offspring. Which was awesome. Horrifying, yes. But in the context of the series, awesome.

Weaknesses: Obsession with revenge overrules her own sanity. Has no close relationships any longer, and may be unfit for a relationship with anyone beyond her long-lost direwolf, Nymeria. May be incapable of ever living in peace, even if she successfully exhausts her list of nighttime prayer targets.

Commentary: If Arya wasn’t killed by the multiple gut punctures the Waif inflicted on her, she may be immortal. In case you’ve forgotten, the resolution of the Bravos story line was a botch, culminating in a ridiculous chase scene and Arya dictating her own terms to the House of Black and White, which had previously slapped her down with utter impunity. While it was satisfying seeing her dispose of Lord Frey, if she moves down her list and kills the others just as effortlessly, it will become mundane. She needs challenges to remain interesting. If she retires to peace and solitude at Winterfell, what can she accomplish?

Will she join the Stark family reunion? Unlikely, for now. If she had wanted to go home, she could have done it before visiting Lord Frey’s keep. Her focus is entirely singular.

The reanimated Ser Gregor may provide ample resistance if she targets Cersei next. Vigilant nerds have guessed that publicity photos showing her with a certain Valyrian Steel dagger indicate she may put an end to Littlefinger, as well. But that makes little sense. The two have scarcely interacted, and Littlefinger has caused so much more direct injury to others that it would be vaguely disappointing if one of his more direct victims (yes, I mean Sansa) did not get to be his undoing.


Strengths: Honorable. Wins the hearts and minds of other men.

Weaknesses: Too honorable. Too Brooding. Too absolute. His uncompromising insistence alienates those who disagree with his actions. Can be goaded into reckless charges that ruin carefully laid battle plans, yet still somehow retain the respect and loyalty of the northern lords.

Commentary: Benioff and Weiss should have reversed the casting of Jon (Kit Harrington) and Robb (Richard Madden). Harrington’s work has grown on me, but Madden was better from the jump and looks more like a Stark, which is important for reasons that should now be obvious. Harrington is awfully small for a badass warrior, too.

George R.R. Martin has been vocal about resurrected people returning diminished. We see it clearly with Beric Dondarrian, but the show has not depicted how Jon Snow has changed after spending the better part of a day laid out on a slab. I’m still stewing about the particulars of his resurrection, even after seeing the episode again recently. He spared Mellisandre only because he believes she was responsible for restoring him to life. I find this somehow dissatisfying, since he woke only after she gave up and left the room. I crave a more interesting explanation that may have to wait (and wait and wait and wait) for the next book.

Jon must meet Daenerys this season. That means a reunion with Tyrion, and their camaraderie way back in season one should help him establish friendly relations with his secret aunt. It also means encountering Theon, which could be excruciating. Mellisandre may well be there, too, latching on to her latest “Prince(ss) that was Promised.” Davos will not be happy to see her.

Channeling Maleficent
HBO / Vox


Strengths: She’s ruthless, which in this world is a strength. She somehow ascended to the Iron Throne without any cognizable right to it under the laws of primogeniture and after committing an unimagineable act of mass murder at a holy shrine. Who else could accomplish that? Tyrion once said the best thing about her was that she loved her children. But, since they are all dead and she brushed off Tommen’s passing with little more than a symbolic shrug, we can’t give her credit for that anymore.

Weaknesses: Perhaps more power mad than anyone in the show save, perhaps, Littlefinger. Purported to care about family, but has been self-serving above all else. If she ever did love Jaime (I doubt it), she abandoned any devotion to him when he lost his sword hand. Thinks she is powerful, though her power comes entirely from hired hands and sycophants.

Commentary: Cersei has had her moments. Her treatment at the hands of the Faith Militant and walk of atonement almost made us pity her, despite her total lack of redeeming qualities. But the coronation scene was nonsensical. Lannister power had been waning since the show began, and respect for Cersei herself was nonexistent, apart from that of the creepy zombie-mountain and the still creepier Qyburn. Yet we are to believe that she had the assent of the nobles to take the throne? Really?

She is doomed. Even Lena Heady won’t deny it. The only question is whether a Stark or one of Cersei’s own brothers delivers the blow.

So, let’s discuss those brothers.


Strengths: Charm and rugged good looks all day. May not wield a sword so well anymore, but employs an effectively acid tongue that may be second only to Olenna Tyrell’s. Sees the world and everything in it with the plain, cynical eye of one who understands human nature only too well, with one glaring exception . . .

Weaknesses: loves and has devoted his entire existence to Cersei, who has done nothing more than use him at least since her own wedding night. The bounds of his devotion have been sorely tested by Cersei’s destruction of the sept. She may now view Jaime not as a lover or confidante at all, but as a threat. He abandoned his sacred vows to kill a prior king for merely threatening to torch King’s Landing with wildfire. Can Jaime remain blindly devoted to Cersei after she actually carried out the monstrous act? If Jaime does nothing more than scold, and stays by her side, he has not changed as much as many people believe.

Commentary: Jaime has garnered a cadre of fans, in large part because of his character rehabilitation in the scenes with Brienne. So, I guess being nice to a self-avowed misfit redeems him from 1) throwing a child off a tower to conceal a secret he cared nothing about; and 2) murdering his own innocent cousin for the sole purpose of escaping for a few fleeting moments from Robb Stark’s camp prison. Jaime fans, defend your hero. Because I’m trashing him. By the way, George, if you’re going to spell it that way, his name should be pronounced “Hi-may.” So there.

As for the other Lannister brother, if indeed he is a Lannister . . .


Strengths: calculating strategist with the quickest wit in Westeros. May have revenge on his mind, but employs the slow game of diplomacy to get there. Understands the strength of knowledge and the written word.

Weaknesses: An abject failure in love, yet can’t seem to help himself. After belittling Jorah Mormont’s hopeless infatuation with Daenerys, he has himself fallen under her spell. The defining moment of his life came when his father had his guards rape Tysha, a peasant girl who Tyrion loved and had secretly married. Tyrion’s guilt at participating in Tywin’s “lesson” led him to a life of drunken debauchery (is there any other kind?). But it also steeled his will to craft himself into a formidable organizer and foe. Words are weapons, and he employs them well. But sometimes, his mouth outruns his own remarkable wit.

Commentary: Fans debate who is the hero of this saga. It may be Tyrion. He is an intellectual match for anyone in the enormous troupe, and he molds those who are ostensibly more powerful to his will so artfully that few understand he is manipulating their way of thinking. He capitalizes on being underestimated. There is something satisfying about a deformed, unappreciated, perhaps bastard son of a wretched father rising all the way to the top. It could happen.

A reunion with Jon Snow approaches, as the three central figures of the series join forces to fight the White Walkers. Tyrion connected with Jon in a unique way, seemingly eons ago in season one. How close will they be if it turns out they are both Targaryens? And when will they each get a dragon?


Strengths: Has traveled Essos (interminably) freeing people from the bonds of slavery. Overcame being her brother’s pawn, sold into marriage to a barbarian, and now leads a diverse army across the narrow sea to take Westeros. Possesses the equivalent of a medieval nuclear option. Three of them, in fact.

Weaknesses: Is she powerful because of her own abilities? Or because Illyrio Mopatis gave her three pretty rocks that miraculously hatched into dragons? Does her seeming idealism justify her apparent lust for burning and crucifying oppressors? Her insistence on regaining the Iron Throne because it is hers by birthright is troubling, and clashes with the idealism she wants to evoke.

Commentary: Daenerys is headed for a fall. Probably not a total fall, but she can’t be allowed to retain all the advantages she enjoys now. She has an enormous force at her back, while all the houses of Westeros are depleted and in disarray. And it’s impossible to ignore the dragons in the room. After languishing in Meereen forever, Dany’s forces should be able to overrun the Seven Kingdoms in about half an episode, then polish off the azure-eyed evil from beyond the wall in week two. For pure storytelling reasons, her strength must be diminished somehow. The only way she gets to keep all of these advantages is if she turns out to be evil, and the rest of the world has to band together to defeat her. (Mind blown, right?)

I don’t believe she is mad or a force of evil, so let’s assume she must be weakened in some way. One of the most intriguing suggestions [Second chance to look away – possible enormous spoiler!] is that one of her dragons will fall to the Night King’s army, and be resurrected as an Ice Dragon. That would level the playing field. It would also be really freaking cool. You know, in a cosplay sword-wielding nerds’ sort of way.


Sam may not have been conceived as a major character. But he has become one, with his own story-line worth its own mention.

Strengths: Pragmatic and well-read. Quiet schemer, when it’s called for. Loyal, even at great personal risk. Will stand up against the cruelty of a cruel world.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t recognize his own importance. Feels guilty when he should not. Carries an inferiority complex earned at the boot heel of his overbearing father.

Commentary: Sam is the most endearing character in the show. He is selfless and devoted, and will defend those he loves, even though he still believes himself to be craven. Last season he entered the Citadel library, where we saw many of the symbols and icons from the opening credits of the show. This has led to speculation that Sam is the narrator of the tale.

Although he is supposed to be studying to become a maester, the purpose for being in the biggest library in the world must be larger than that. Will he rediscover the means for manufacturing Valyrian steel to fight the White Walkers? Will he learn something useful from history to help in the coming war? And will he survive his father’s wrath when he comes to retrieve the Tarly sword, Heartsbane? It would be clunky storytelling, indeed, if that irascible goon just let Sam and Gilly run off with the family heirloom and symbol of power without a fight.


Strengths: Has developed from fantasizing, empty-headed nitwit to a Game of Thrones strategist. Is the oldest living child of Ned Stark, which gives her status with the northern lords. Took charge of her own destiny and saved us from further torment at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, for which we should all be eternally grateful.

Weaknesses: Kept her summons to the Knights of the Vale secret until it was almost too late, at the cost of many lives at the Battle of the Bastards. Yet still wants credit. May be under the spell of that snake, Littlefinger. May be “family first.” May not.

Commentary: Sansa has matured as much as any character in the show. She has also been the victim of more than a few bad story decisions. After what Littlefinger put her through, Sansa had to swallow all of her pride to ask him for help. If she allies with him against Jon, the showrunners’ decision to depart from the books to have Littlefinger marry Sansa off to Ramsay Bolton will have come full circle as an idiotic move. No way she could trust him after that torment.

Sansa’s chapters in the books are frequently dreary eye-rollers. But suddenly, the show version of her has one of the more intriguing story lines. Nobody seems to know where her true allegiance lies. I’m interested. But apparently not that interested. I did put her last among the main characters.

Half-life, but with a flaming sword.
HBO / Vox

These are the principal players most likely to be standing in the end. Others deserve some note, though. I’ll keep it brief.

Brienne: Another fan favorite whose role crescendoed, but has now waned. Brienne has accomplished her mission and is now a sidekick. The attentions of Tormund Giantsbane provide some needed levity.

Davos: An admirable smuggler and able hand of the king. He is the most capable diplomat of the show, but needs to be more forceful. Stannis would have made fewer missteps if he had listened. Let’s hope Davos takes a firmer “hand” with Jon. (See what I did there?)

Littlefinger: Character whose name is a thinly-veiled nod to Tolkien’s Wormtongue. A central player in manipulating the pieces, who might have deserved a full write-up. But I refuse to give the conniving cause of all the turmoil that much space. Because 1) it’s my article, and 2) I don’t need to list all the reasons you should want him to die a hideous death, anyway.

Mellisandre: A zealot whose allegiances change after each successive failure. Whatever she sees in those fires, she does a shitty job of interpreting. In the books, it is clearer that most of her game is parlor tricks. She has to be almost done.

Olenna: The last of the Tyrell nobility has joined Dorne, who will likely join Dany. Treachery may stall the alliance. There must be at least one more Queen Cersei/Queen of Thorns audience to come, if only for the sheer enjoyment of Diana Rigg’s delightful sarcasm.

Euron Greyjoy: Madman of the sea introduced last season to occupy the place of most-loathed character vacated by the death of Ramsay Bolton. Not nearly larger-than-life enough in the show. Let’s hope he doesn’t last long.

Jorah: Hopeless infatuant ordered to find the cure for his own greyscale ailment. Obviously there is a cure; Shireen survived it until…yeah, let’s not talk about that.

Theon: Dude just wants to die, but feels he still owes someone something for his wrongdoing. Continuing to live is self-inflicted punishment. It’s hard to imagine he plays a major role anymore, except maybe to redeem himself though a heroic sacrifice.

Ramsay Bolton: Dogfood. Let’s never mention him again.

The Hound: Assumed to be dead, now a member of Dondarrian’s Brotherhood Without Banners. Does Arya still want to kill him? Have to assume he exists to confront that zombie-mountain brother of his.

The Night King: Inexorably advancing on humanity, as always. Funny how he blips out of existence for episode after episode if, as Jon preaches, he is bringing the only war that matters.

That’s enough. Unless I overlooked one (which is possible, given how enormous the story has grown), other characters are sidekicks or less, as I see it. Any purpose they serve is tertiary to the ultimate outcome.

Last season, the pace of events picked up. With only seven episodes this year and six next, story threads will have to continue to be bound up. The dragons are big and formidable now, providing fodder for battle sequences to measure up to “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards,” two of the most epic episodes ever filmed for television.

Cast members say the action and intrigue flies faster than ever now. They said that for five years running, with mixed results. They said it last year, and they were not lying. If we’re ever going to resolve this sprawling story, they can’t be lying now. This should be fun.

Finally, I’d say if you haven’t seen the trailer, you’re not a real fan. Then again, if you read this far, you’ve more than redeemed yourself. But go watch it now: Official Game of Thrones Season 7 Trailer


The ultimate hero of Game of Thrones is

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Jon Snow
    (12 votes)
  • 9%
    Daenerys Targaryen
    (5 votes)
  • 18%
    Tyrion Lannister
    (10 votes)
  • 12%
    Other (defend in comments)
    (7 votes)
  • 38%
    There is no single hero, in the end.
    (21 votes)
55 votes total Vote Now