Winter is coming in Game of Thrones' Season 7, culminating in the final battle for Westeros between the human forces of the Seven Kingdoms and the supernatural White Walkers and their fearsome Night King. Even though that final clash is set – both in the upcoming books and in HBO's TV series Seasons 7 and 8 – there's still plenty of time for scheming, sex, and murder in the meantime, and a slew of battles big and small scale to set the stage.
Battles and conflict are the lifeblood of GoT and this past season on HBO has been unique. For the first time, the TV series has outstripped the story line of the books, leaving producers to come up with their own twists and turns. The HBO series has already deviated from the plot of A Song of Fire and Ice, the novel series by George R.R. Martin, but essentially within the same parameters.
Now, as fans wait for both the next book in the series and Season 7, speculation is running high. After the explosive developments that ended Season 6, where can the show go next? Jon Snow and Cersei are both newly installed on their thrones – but can they hope to actually stay there? Dany and the dragons are on the way, and all the other royal houses of Westeros have gone through their own turmoil, with some – like the Baratheons – decimated in the process. Or are they really...?
In the world of Westeros, there is always a wild card at play. It's a place where old grudges compete with new grudges, and murderous ambition is never far from the surface. Here's a look at battles we'd like to see on screen, including the many ways much hated Queen Cersei might get hers.
15 Daenerys vs. Queen Cersei
The clash of the great queens – this one will be epic, and it seems to be brewing on the horizon as Season 6 ended. On one hand, Cersei is crowned Queen after viciously eliminating the competition. On the other, we have Daenerys and a fleet of ships crossing the Narrow Sea to King's Landing to reclaim the throne in her family's name. On the Targaryen side, there are the Tyrells, Martells, Yara and Theon Greyjoy, and – of course – dragons. There's been no official word from HBO, but casting notices for Season 7 have included extras who are willing to shave heads and faces – as in the Unsullied – and Middle Eastern types, along with a lot of horses, pointing to Dothrakis. Tyrion Lannister is at Daenerys' right hand. With the Greyjoy clan in conflict, Euron and his Ironborn warriors will form an alliance with Cersei, setting up a major battle that is likely to involve nearly everyone in Westeros. As much as anyone in GoT can be classified on the side of "good", this is a sort of classic semi-good vs. evil match up. Dany is supposed to be Westeros' savior, after all, and while none of Westeros' leaders qualifies as entirely benevolent, she has at least demonstrated good impulses. That's saying a lot in GoT. The winner? The side with the dragons, natch!
14 Sansa Stark vs. Jon Snow
Jon Snow's only just reclaimed Winterfell in the name of the Starks, exacting deliciously vicious justice against Ramsay Bolton in the process. But in GoT, no one can rest on their laurels for very long. Part of the reason for his victory can be found in the transformation of Sansa Stark over the seasons from powerless pawn in the family politics to warrior princess eager to help secure the family legacy. But, when Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish tells her he sees himself sitting on the Iron Throne with Sansa at his side, does he plant a seed in her brain? She doesn't trust Baelish, but she doesn't entirely trust Jon either. As Jon receives the acknowledgment of the Northern and Vale Lords, and the Free Folk, Baelish is the only unsmiling face who doesn't cheer the move. He stares at Sansa. If she declared her claim to the throne, it's possible that Sansa could get support from at least some of those Lords, and plunge the North into a Civil War...just as the hordes of wights and White Walkers prepares to cross the Wall on their way south. Warrior princess vs. resurrected Bastard King – it's just twisted enough to throw a monkey wrench into the GoT universe.
13 Gendry vs. Jon Snow vs. Queen Cersei
Gendry is something of a joke among "Game of Thrones" fans at this point, and the subject of many memes. He hasn't been spotted since the end of Season 3, when he escaped the Red Woman Melisandre and was last seen rowing away from her. He's been rowing for three years now, but it looks like he may be on the way back, at least according to eagle-eyed fans who spotted actor Joe Dempsie in Belfast while GoT filming was underway. As the last surviving son of King Robert Baratheon, albeit a bastard, he has a legitimate claim to the throne. But, who would he align with? It might make sense for him to look to Jon Snow, in recreating the old Stark – Baratheon allegiance and setting them up against the House of Lannister. But, Gendry had a real bond with Arya, who has also returned to Westeros. If Gendry marries Arya, the two would have a dual claim to the Iron Throne, pitting them against Jon Snow first, and eventually Queen Cersei, who is on Arya's infamous hit list. This one would be a game changer.
12 Euron Greyjoy vs. Yara and Theon Greyjoy
Euron Greyjoy emerged in Season 6 as one of the more interesting characters. He's got a ruthless streak a mile wide – what else is new in Westeros – is commander of the Ironborn and also of the Silence, a ship manned by sailors who can't speak because he's cut out their tongues. After killing Yara and Theon's father, Euron's plan was to wangle his way into Dany's bed and a shot at ruling it all. But, Yara and her brother scuttled those plans by stealing his ships and sailing off to make their own overtures to Daenerys. At the end of Season 6, he was calling for trees to be felled to build him more ships. Now, in real life, that would take some time, but in HBO-land, he could be sailing the high seas tomorrow in a quest to catch up with his runaway niece and nephew, and while they're fleeing him at the moment, Yara wants revenge for the slaughter of her father, turning this one into a poisonous family grudge match. There are rumors on the Season 7 sets of a battle at sea, meaning we may actually see this one coming up in 2017.
11 Jon Snow vs. Daenerys
Jon Snow was declared King of the North just before it was revealed that he was actually a Targaryen, son of Lyanna Star and Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany's older brother. While both Lyanna and Rhaegar were married or promised to others at the time, it's true that Targaryen kings sometimes had more than one wife. Did he marry Lyanna, making Jon Snow a legitimate Targaryen? If that's the case, then Jon actually has a stronger claim to the throne than Daenerys herself. Will they become allies? Will they become incestuous lovers? Or, in true "Game of Thrones" fashion, will it result in a vicious battle for preeminence in the Westeros world? We're thinking the latter – or maybe all three. Jon Snow just got a taste of legitimacy, and he's not likely to go back to second billing. And if Snow goes against Dany, it could draw in the Lannisters and Queen Cersei, or then again, they may sit aside and wait for the two forces to battle it out, only to waltz in and battle the victors when they're still weary from the wars.
10 Jaime Lannister vs. Queen Cersei
They may have different last names at this point in the story, but Jaime and Cersei are the twins who set the series standard for character debauchery with an incestuous relationship revealed in Season 1. The relationship was a badly kept secret that has had ripple effects throughout the six seasons of the story so far. But, from twin lovers, their relationship has waned, declining to a new low after Cersei firebombs the Great Sept Of Baelor – and most of her own family – on the way to the throne. The final straw for Jaime may have been his son/nephew Tommen's suicide when he couldn't face the results of the carnage. The look on Jaime's face at Cersei's coronation was not admiration but contempt. If he turns on her for good, it weakens her ability to hold on to the throne. It may involve The Mountain or other respective allies, or devolve into a vicious one-on-one battle of sister/brother/lovers who were once close. Much as we hate her, we'd have to give the odds to the Queen and her ruthless, conniving ways.
9 Jon Snow and the Starks vs. Cersei, Queen of Westeros
At the end of Season 6, Bran's visions show him Jon Snow's true parentage. Will he then feel compelled to find Jon and tell him about it? With Sansa now an ally of Jon's it could bring the three Stark siblings back together. Power, rather than revenge, would be a likely motivator, but clearly there's no shortage of bad blood between the Starks and both Cersei and her brother, starting with Bran's fall out the window. It revives the long-standing conflict between House Stark and House Lannister that last exploded in the Red Wedding. A move against Queen Cersei could also have a strategic purpose, what with Daenerys and her fleet on the way. Jon Snow has momentum and newly forged allegiances on his side, while the Queen of Westeros has fear and loathing. If the Starks were victorious, it would set them on a course for Westeros-wide domination, although the cold threat that comes from the North is ever present even if they manage to keep Dany at bay.
8 House of Lannister vs. Houses of Tyrell & Martell
This one's all about the money – and The Reach. As the most populated area of Westeros and second only in wealth to the Lannister holdings, the territory is a natural target for the acquisitive Lannister clan. The wheels were already set in motion in Season 6. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are talking to Lady Olenna, trying to formalize the Martell and Tyrell alliance against the Lannisters. Despite Olenna's reluctance, she's persuaded by Varys, who's definitely on Dany's side. Who would win? It depends on the larger alliances in play. The way that Cersei seized power hasn't exactly done a lot to forge new alliances – she's got The Mountain, the Kingsguard, Qyburn, and presumably Jaime...or does she? And Ellaria's got it in for Cersei, who once mocked her bastard status. Ellaria is ambitious, and has just seized control of Dorne. Ellaria's already burned her bridges where the Lannisters are concerned, having poisoned Cersei and Jaime's daughter Myrcella. This battle for control could help clarify allegiances across Westeros, and hand Queen Cersei her first major challenge.
7 The Hound vs. The Mountain
We've all been waiting for this one for a long time – the Clegane Bowl between the newly returned Hound and the undead Mountain. Fans haven't heard from Sandor Clegane also known as The Hound for two seasons, ever since his battle royale with Brienne. But, there he was in the very last episode of Season 6, apparently nursed back to health, which may be setting up a popular fan theory that's been around for a couple of years. The Clegane brothers have a longstanding conflict. It was Gregor The Mountain who shoved his brother's face into burning coals, giving him those distinctive facial scars. There was that tournament way back in Season 1, when Sandor jumped in after Gregor hacked off a horse's head and was about to annihilate Ser Loras Tyrell. The Lannister trial by combat -- where Cersei has to pay for her crimes -- would give the show the unique opportunity to finally let it fly. The zombified Mountain is her natural choice of champion. The Hound could be called up to champion the Faith. Who would win? While The Mountain is bigger and has that whole undead strength happening, The Hound is actually a better technical fighter. With the right plays, he could take this one.
6 Dance of Dragons Civil War Flashback
In contrast with George R.R. Martin's books, "Game of Thrones" on HBO has been short of historical flashbacks and context. But, at the Emmys this year, Martin slyly mentioned the extensive Westeros and Essos history he's already written, hinting at possible sources for prequels and spinoffs. In the interests of setting up a Valyrian prequel, we'd love to see a flashback battle – the Dance of the Dragons Civil War. Dragons were commonplace and many Valyrians were dragonriders. The Dance of Dragons Civil War happened while the Targaryens ruled the Seven Kingdoms and pitted Aegon II and his half-sister Rhaenyra against each other. Both died in the battle, resulting in the coronation of Rhaenrya's son Aegon III. The battle raged over land and sea, involving the Lannisters, Baratheons, and of course, dragons, and more dragons. It would be CGI-heavy and expensive, but oh so worth it.
5 Tyrion Lannister vs. Queen Cersei
As Hand of the Queen to Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister and Queen Cersei could be set up in opposition to each other in all sorts of ways. But, this one's personal, and deserves a personal touch. Big sister Cersei has hated Tyrion since his birth and even went so far as to order his execution. Maybe, during a battle scene, Tyrion could fall upon Cersei in the castle corridors, or in the process of escaping. Either way, Tyrion would have to go after the evil icy queen. The kicker: It's already been foretold by prophecy. When Cersei was a child, Maggy the Frog, a wise woman, predicted much about Cersei's forthcoming life, including her marriage and infidelity. She also told Cersei that she'd outlive all her children, who would die as kings and queens. So far, so good. Maggy the Frog went on to tell Cersei that everything she'd amassed would be taken away by another queen, one who was younger and more beautiful. Then, she said the "valonqar" -- which is High Valyrian for little brother – would kill her by strangling her. Let's face it, we all want her dead, and an offing by the little brother she's been tormenting his whole life would be a fitting departure.
4 Bran vs. The Night King
Ever since the fateful fall at Jaime Lannister's hands (after Bran caught him hooking up with twin sister Cersei,) Bran has been crippled, but on his off beat path, he's also been the link to a reawakening of magic, which has long been gone from Westeros. Under the tutelage of the Three-Eyed Raven, he's learned to warg, or enter the minds of animals and see through their eyes. He's been able to transfer that ability to enter the mind of Hodor and other human beings too, although that comes at a price to the wargee, as Bran found out. He can see the future and past with the aid of a Heart Tree. The Night King has mysterious origins that go back to the time of the First Men. He's powerful, but Bran is now the successor to the Three-Eyed Raven, and his positioning near the Wall just as Winter is coming to Westeros and the threat of the White Walkers is lurking on the horizon can't be a coincidence. It may not be a decisive battle, but another (conscious) clash with the Night King could help Bran to fully realize his powers and prepare him to use them in the ultimate battle for Westeros that is looming for Season 8.
3 The Red Woman And The Red Priest vs. White Walkers
When we last saw Melisandre, she was riding south, having been banished from the North by Jon Snow. She is the reason he's alive and reasonably well, but then again there was that whole incident where she set fire to Shireen. At the same time, what's left of the Brotherhood Without Borders, including the red priest Thoros of Myr, newly resurrected Beric Dondarrion, and The Hound are on the road headed north. Red Woman meets Red Priest – what possibilities does that open up? The Brothers are going north to take on the White Walkers past the Wall. In a clash with White Walkers, an alliance of Melisandre and Thoros would set up the fiery magic of the Lord of Light against the intense cold of the Others' world. Which would prevail? The fly in the ointment is that Melisandre risks being imprisoned if she heads back north, but the fate of Westeros is at stake!
2 Arya vs. Jaqen H’ghar
Arya has done her fair share of killing in the name of revenge, and her kill list is still long. Jaqen was her sensei, the man who trained her to be "no one". She rejected that idea, however, in the end, and Jaqen, after all, did send the Waif to kill Arya even though he was a mentor and friend to her. Still, if Arya wants to continue her quest to be an assassin, what better test than her old teacher? If she can best him, it would be a true test of her abilities and fighting spirit beyond the simple act of revenge. A passionless kill of Jaqen would cement her reputation and move her into the realm of master assassin. She'd be a formidable weapon to any ruler who'd employ her; presumably she'd be in the service of Jon Snow, her half-brother, helping him hold on to the Iron Throne for as long as he can.
1 Direwolves And Dragons vs. White Walkers
We're adding the direwolves to this equation in the hopes that at least a couple of them will still be alive for the showdown that we know is coming with the White Walkers and the cold supernatural forces of the North. They're big, ferociously loyal, and they'd look awesome chomping on a few Others from below while dragons rained down fire on their heads from above. This is the classic match up of the Westeros universe: fire and ice. And, it would be the ultimate battle, with or without the Starks, Targaryen, and other assorted humans in tow. Now, it's true that enough ice and cold can put out a fire, but the dragons can bring down their fire out of the cold sky – a distinct strategic advantage. Ultimately, they'll beat back the supernatural hordes and usher in a new era of dragon riding peace in Westeros.