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The only Game of Thrones episodes you need to watch before the finale

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones

The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones is coming, just like winter. If you want to get prepared, you only need to watch these episodes.

It’s a matter of weeks, not months, before the last season of Game of Thrones is upon us. And for fans of the series, those weeks are dark and full of terrors.

What is going to happen in the final six episodes of the beloved show? Which cunning characters will finally get their comeuppance, and which unsung legends will get their hero moment? What fan theories will come true? Who is going to make a surprise reappearance? Who is going to win the titular game of thrones? And who, pray tell, is going to die?

It will all become clear very, very soon. But who has patience to wait? If you want to get ahead of what might happen in the final season of Game of Thrones, you need to start rewatching episodes. Don’t worry, not all of them – who has time for that? – but one season in particular. Season one. 

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Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss have stated that the first episode of season eight will feature several callbacks to the pilot episode, so if nothing else rewatching the first season will help you pick up on those.

But, more broadly, we know that Benioff and Weiss have been playing a long game with Game of Thrones from the start. This television show has been a marathon, not a sprint, and all of the groundwork for what is about to come to pass in the final season of Game of Thrones was laid way back in 2011 in the very first season. 

The first season hints at the fate of Tyrion (or maybe Jaime! Or both)

We meet Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) in the seventh episode of season one in the middle of skinning a deer. His son Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is standing nearby, cowed and downtrodden, as Tywin delivers a blistering lecture on the state of the family name.

Family is everything, Tywin says. Pretty soon, they’ll all be dead, and their children will be dead, and their children’s children will be dead. The only thing that will be left is the Lannister name, and the only thing that should matter to Jaime and, by default, the other Lannister siblings, is preserving the honour of that name.

There are a few ways you could take this. Tywin is delivering this lecture to Jaime, and it is Jaime who, in the final season of Game of Thrones, has left behind his sister-love and is making his way North, to fight for the living. The tragic arc of Jaime throughout the show has been how his character’s honour was depleted after he killed the Mad King and how he has felt unfairly branded by the name Kingslayer ever since. When he loses his sword hand – the one thing that he has always been good at – it’s yet another blow to his identity.

By season eight, the Lannister name is in the mud. Any honour that they might have had is gone. If Jaime was really paying attention to Tywin’s lecture in season one, and all suggestions hint that he was, then he could finally be doing something that will bring honour to the Lannister name by travelling North to fight the White Walkers alongside Jon Snow and Daenerys. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be the one to shove a Valyrian steel sword into the Night King, and the Kingslayer will ride again. And, if the theory that Bran is the Night King comes to pass, then this entire plotline could have been foreshadowed all the way back in the pilot episode when Jamie pushed Bran out the window. Everything checks out. 

Jaime Lannister spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8

What will happen to Jaime Lannister in season eight? 

Or, Tywin’s lecture could point to a different Lannister son’s fate. 

There is a fan theory floating around that Tyrion is going to leave Dany’s side and join forces with Cersei. Tyrion, who has always felt like an outsider in the Lannister family, might find that blood truly does run thicker than water, no matter what that blood has done to you in the past. Either way, Tywin’s lecture about family is going to loom large over season eight in one way or another.  

Understanding Arya is about understanding Ned’s death

One of the most important episodes in the history of television is the ninth episode of season one of Game of Thrones. This is the episode in which Ned Stark dies, a decentring of the show which, until that point, had positioned Ned as the hero. Until Game of Thrones, television series didn’t make a habit of killing off their central characters, and they definitely didn’t make a habit of doing it in the first season.

The shockwaves from Ned’s death are still reverberating through Game of Thrones. (Some people even believe that he’s going to return from the dead.) Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of Arya. 

Understanding Arya, what drives her and what makes her the character that she is today, is all about understanding how her father’s death impacted her. The same is true of Sansa, but the way she processed Ned’s death was refracted through her abusive relationship with Joffrey at the time. Sansa saw her father be beheaded and, later, saw his head paraded around on a spike.

But Arya was torn from the statue of Baelor and shielded from view, which meant that she didn’t get the chance to lock eyes with her father before his death. We see him searching the crowd for Arya but not seeing her, a moment that Sean Bean plays with a heartbreaking mixture of despair and relief. Arya didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, and she has been motivated by vengeance ever since. 

As her storyline comes to completion in the final season of Game of Thrones, remember how important the relationship with her father was to her, and how revenge might drive her to finally tick those last remaining names off her list. 

Jorah’s prescient oath

The only character I care about on Game of Thrones is Jorah Mormont. The disgraced knight and right hand man to Daenerys is the true pinup of the show. You can keep your Jon Snows and your Robb Starks and your Gendrys and your Daarios. I want Jorah, faithful and devoted and softly bronzed by the Dothrakian sun. 

Jorah is the man

But he’s definitely going to die in season eight. This is what the show has been building up to over the last eight years, a redemption arc that allows him to prove to Dany just how much he has loved her. The seeds of this, for want of a better word, are strewn all through season one, if you care to look for them.

“I vow to serve you, to obey you, to die for you, if need be,” Jorah tells his Khaleesi towards the end of the first season. He might regret making that oath in the eighth season, when he will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. But knowing my man Jorah he will gladly give his life to save Daenerys, probably during the battle for Winterfell, and that’s what makes him the best character on Game of Thrones

Cersei’s first child

In the second episode of season one, Cersei shares a private moment with Catelyn as Bran recuperates from his fall. Sure, Cersei played a key role in said fall, given that Bran happened upon her mid-coitus with Jaime, and Jaime pushed him out a window in retaliation. Still, Cersei is suitably sombre when she visits Catelyn to tell a story of her own experience of love and loss.

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) in Game of Thrones

Could Cersei’s firstborn child still be alive?

Cersei shares the tale of her first baby, a “black-haired beauty” who died shortly after his birth. As we go into season eight all of Cersei’s children are dead, and the fate of the baby she is currently carrying is unknown. But what if her first baby didn’t die at all? 

According to fans who believe this theory, Cersei switched her baby with another peasant child and gave her “black-haired beauty” away. And that baby, if the theory is to be believed, grew up to be none other than Gendry, making him not a bastard at all but the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne.

Go back and rewatch that episode in season one and see what you think. It could be the key to the entirety of season eight. 

Cleganebowl is coming

All of Game of Thrones has been building up to Cleganebowl, a fight between the estranged brothers The Mountain and The Hound. Fans have been clamouring for this showdown for several seasons now, and season eight is finally going to give it to us. 

The seeds of enmity between these two hulking killing machines can be traced all the way back to season one, when Littlefinger explains to Sansa and Arya how The Mountain pushed The Hound’s face into the fire and burned his flesh, just to teach him a lesson. No wonder the two hate each other so much, and no wonder this fight is going to be one to remember. If you want a refresher on their relationship, rewatch season one, episode four. 

Who is Azor Ahai?

The question on everyone’s minds going into the final season of Game of Thrones is who is the Prince who was Promised? 

Azor Ahai is the prophesied saviour of Westeros, someone who will wield a sword called Lightbringer to save the realm, and there are several contenders who fit the bill. Melisandre thought it was Stannis, before switching her allegiance to Gendry and, then, Jon Snow. It might also not be a Prince at all but a Princess, in which case Daenerys is as good a guess as any.

Samwell Tarly could be the Prince who was Promised

We here at Stylist are opting for a less obvious choice, though. We believe that Azor Ahai is going to Samwell Tarly. He was the first person to kill a White Walker onscreen on Game of Thrones, and the man who discovered that dragonglass was their achilles heel.

Throughout Game of Thrones Sam has been soundly and repeatedly dismissed. But there is bravery and courage and wisdom and loyalty in this man, and you can see that all the way back in the first season.

In particular, might we draw attention to the Night’s Watch oath that Sam makes way back in the first season. One line in particular sticks out: “I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”

The sword in the darkness, eh? Sounds a lot like a weapon called Lightbringer. If you, like us, believe that Sam Tarly could be Azor Ahai, you need to watch season one and pick up on the clues. 

Game of Thrones returns to HBO in the US on 14 April and Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK on 15 April. 

Images: HBO

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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